Russian soldiers charged with theft of credit cards from Polish plane wreckage

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Russians charged with card theft from Polish 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 four suspects have admitted their guilt and are actively cooperating with investigators,” the statement said.

Poles have reacted with shock and outrage that people would try to profit from a crash that has deeply shaken the nation, and is widely considered the country’s worst tragedy since World War II . The Super Express tabloid condemned the thieves as “hyenas.”

The theft also raises doubts in Poland about whether all procedures were followed in securing the crash site — and it risks straining the good working relationship formed between Russians and Poles in the aftermath of the crash.

The soldiers were attached to the airport in the western Russian city of Smolensk, where the plane carrying Kaczynski crashed on April 10. 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.

Polish officials said Monday that the money was withdrawn using a card that belonged to Andrzej Przewoznik, a prominent official who oversaw Poland’s wartime memorials. They said the thieves failed to obtain cash from another card that belonged Przewoznik.

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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