Russian soldiers charged with stealing bank cards from Polish plane wreckage

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Russia: Soldiers stole bank cards from plane wreck

MOSCOW — Four Russian soldiers have been charged with stealing bank cards from the wreckage of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The soldiers used at least one of the cards to withdraw 60,345 rubles (about $2,000), the federal Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The thefts had angered Poles, who were outraged that someone would try to profit from a crash that wiped out much of their nation’s military and civilian leadership. The incident threatened to strain the good working relationship formed between Russians and Poles in the aftermath of the April 10 crash.

But by Tuesday, with the suspects identified and charged, the two Slavic nations appeared to be putting the matter behind them.

Polish government spokesman Pawel Gras apologized for initially blaming the theft on an elite Russian police force and even made a point of switching into Russian for his apology.

“Please forgive me, it was a simple mistake,” Gras said at a news conference in Warsaw. He thanked the police for their help in securing the crash site.

The soldiers were attached to the airport in the western Russian city of Smolensk, where the plane carrying Kaczynski crashed while landing in heavy fog. The president was leading a high-ranking delegation to a memorial ceremony for Polish prisoners of war massacred by Soviet secret police at the start of World War II.

“The four suspects have admitted their guilt and are actively cooperating with investigators,” the Investigative Committee statement said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Tuesday that the ministry will apologize and return the stolen money once the soldiers’ guilt is proven in court.

The four soldiers were identified as Artur Pankratov, Igor Pustovar, Yury Sankov and Sergei Syrov. All but Pustovar had prior criminal records, the statement said. They face up to five years in prison if convicted.

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