Former minister denies role in 2003 military air crash
Yakovlev accident that killed 75 not his fault, Trillo says20 March 2008
MADRID - Former Defence Minister Federico Trillo has denied having any role in chartering a plane that crashed in eastern Turkey in 2003, killing 62 Spanish soldiers and 13 Ukrainian crew.
In testimony presented in writing to the High Court, Trillo said the order to charter the Ukrainian-operated Yakovlev 42 had been given by the joint chiefs of staff and was conducted through the NATO leasing agency NAMSA. The testimony, dated 14 March, was made available to prosecutors yesterday and represents the latest addition to an investigation into the worst aviation accident in Spanish military history. The case was reopened earlier this year by Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska following an appeal by public prosecutors and relatives of the victims.
The plane, which was carrying the Spanish troops home from peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, crashed on 26 May 2003 in the eastern Turkish city of Trabzon. An international inquiry concluded that pilot error brought on by fatigue was to blame and revealed technical and operational irregularities that cast doubt on the Defence Ministry and NATO's leasing procedures.
Many of the victims' relatives and opposition politicians accused Trillo and the then Popular Party administration of negligence, especially after a military forensic team, apparently under pressure to get the victims' bodies home, rushed the identification process, resulting in a macabre mix-up of corpses. Trillo has consistently denied any wrongdoing and, according to a spokesman for relatives of the dead soldiers, his written testimony offers "nothing new." Trillo's Socialist successor as defence minister in 2004, José Bono, is due to testify in person on 3 April.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / ANGELES ESPINOSA 2008]