Russian soldiers held for defrauding crash victim: official

7th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Four Russian soldiers are accused of stealing from the bank account of a victim of the April 10 air crash in which Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others died, a Polish prosecutor said Monday.

"One hour and 20 minutes after the catastrophe, the first fraudulent withdrawal was made using one of two bank cards belonging to Andrzej Przewoznik," Monika Lewandowska, spokeswoman for the Warsaw regional prosecutor's office, told AFP.

Przewoznik, who headed Poland's national war memorial committee, was part of the delegation that was killed en route to Katyn in western Russia for a ceremony marking the 1940 massacre of thousands of Polish army officers at the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

"During the three days after the catastrophe, from April 10 to 12, there were a total 11 withdrawals for the total sum of 6,000 zloty (1,445 euros, 1,730 dollars)," Lewandowska said.

Polish government spokesman Pawel Gras said Monday that the Russian soldiers suspected of the fraud had been arrested.

"The authors of this ignoble act have already been arrested in Russia," Gras said.

"They are four Russian soldiers, not officials from the OMON (Russian anti-riot militia) as indicated by error on Sunday," he added. "I made this error as I thought that only OMON militiamen were at the crash site, but other units were also there," Gras said.

A source in the Russian security forces confirmed on Monday that four air force soldiers had been arrested in connection with the theft.

"Four Russian soldiers suspected of stealing money from the bank account of an official in the Polish delegation... have been arrested," the source was quoted as saying by Ria-Novosti news agency.

According to Polish prosecutors investigating the case, the fraudulent withdrawals are thought to have been made by soldiers from a unit in the western Russian city of Smolensk where the crash occurred.

"Polish justice authorities have asked their Russian counterparts for judicial aid, notably to provide information on videos monitoring bank machines where the withdrawals were made," Lewandowska said.

"We have not received any response to our demand for the moment," she added.

"The soldiers also made six failed attempts to withdraw cash with a different bank card belonging to Mr. Przewoznik," Lewandowska said.

The Polish president's Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 crashed while trying to land at Smolensk in thick fog. There were no survivors.

Russian authorities quickly sealed the area of the accident and the wreckage debris was then transported to the airport.

© 2010 AFP

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