Tajik court jails two foreign pilots
A Tajik court on Tuesday jailed two foreign plane pilots for eight-and-a-half years on charges of smuggling, illegal border crossing and violating national flight regulations.
The regional court in Qurgonteppa, 100 kilometres south of capital Dushanbe, sentenced Vladimir Sadovnichy of Russia and Alexey Rudenko of Estonia to 10-and-a-half years and confiscated their two Antonov-72 planes, a court representative told AFP.
But the court cut the sentence by two years because of the nationwide amnesty in the ex-Soviet mountainous Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan. The attorney of the pilots said he plans to appeal the decision.
"Inside one of the planes, a disassembled plane engine was found," the representative told AFP, explaining the smuggling charge at the end of the month-long court proceedings.
The Russian embassy in Tajikistan said the verdict was "unjust and inhumane."
The two pilots denied the charges. They said they were returning from Afghanistan where they delivered food and humanitarian aid. The plane company Rolkan Investments Ltd. has said that Tajikistan was interested in the planes and using the pilots for "blackmail."
The pilots were flying two planes through Tajik airspace on flights from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Moscow.
Tajik air controllers ordered the planes to return to Kabul, saying they lacked documents authorizing their route through Tajik airspace.
They were arrested at the regional airport in Qurgonteppa when they landed on March 12 after the airport granted a request for an unscheduled landing while the other crew members were released.
© 2011 AFP