Poland Sees Tampered Evidence in Crash That Killed President

(Bloomberg) -- Polish investigators said evidence from the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski was manipulated and a new probe into the disaster in Smolensk, Russia, is required.

Investigators appointed by Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who has said the crash that killed 96 people was probably an “assassination,” said Thursday that the plane’s black boxes, initially recovered by Russian authorities, are missing recordings from the vital last seconds of the flight. Previous probes by both countries, which pinned the blame for the accident mainly on pilot error, concealed facts such as engine and instrument failure as the plane approached the military airport in dense fog, experts appointed by Macierewicz said.

Six years after the Smolensk tragedy, it remains a lightning rod in Polish politics. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling party and power behind the government, wants to “bring to justice” whoever is responsible for the death of his twin brother and other political leaders on the plane. With wider implications at stake including Poland’s relations with Russia, Macierewicz said last year that explosives probably caused the government jet to crash into a forest short of the runway.

“There’s indisputable evidence that the truth has been hidden in previous probes," Macierewicz told reporters in Warsaw on Thursday. From the start, Polish investigators agreed to coordinate their findings with the Russians, instead of working independently to find out what happened, according to a presentation shown to reporters.

‘Serious Errors’

In a separate probe, Polish prosecutors are seeking to verify if the April 10, 2010 crash was caused by weather, technical factors, human errors or by “deliberate actions of individuals on the plane and on the ground.” As part of this inquiry, the bodies of victims that weren’t burned will be exhumed and re-examined as medical reports carried soon after the crash “contained serious errors,” investigators said a statement in June.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski in January said that Russia had “something to hide” because it denied Poland access to evidence and refused to return the wreckage, which remains at the Smolensk airport near the Katyn forest, where Soviets killed thousands of Polish officers during World War II.

“There’s no question about manipulation, the part of the missing recording from the Polish black box was simply made complete by using the data from the Russian one to have a full picture of the flight,” Piotr Lipiec, a former member of the committee that probed the crash under Poland’s previous government, told TVN24 television Thursday.

The allegations by Polish officials are “beyond absurd,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.

“The essence of these statements is that the Russian side was allegedly involved in organizing the crash of the Polish presidential plane,” Zakharova said. “Such irresponsible and provocative statements on the one hand reflect the domestic political situation, the very complicated realities in Poland, and on the other lead to a further undermining of the already difficult relations between our two countries.”

‘Further Misunderstanding’

All recordings of communications traffic between the air traffic controllers and the pilots were made public in 2011 and were “thoroughly studied by the international commission, which included Poland’s representatives first and foremost,” Zakharova said.

She urged Poland to present any additional evidence “immediately to the international community” and to Russia “to avoid speculation and further misunderstanding.”