Tajikistan softens stance on jailed Russian pilots

RIA Novosti / Lidia Isamova
Tajik prosecutors have filed a protest to the regional court against a lower court’s decision to send two pilots of Russia’s Rolkan Airlines to jail for eight-and-a-half years and asked for a milder sentence.

The Prosecutor's Office of the Khatlon Region in Tajikistan stated that the sentences delivered to Russian flight commander Vladimir Sadovnichy and his Estonian colleague Aleksey Rudenko were “too severe.”

Taking into consideration “the personalities of the convicted men, as well as the fact that they are citizens of countries that are Tajikistan’s strategic partners,” the prosecutors asked the regional court “to mitigate the sentences handed down by a court in the town of Kurgan-Tyube,” Shokhrukh Radzhabov of the Prosecutor’s Office told journalists, as cited by Interfax news agency.

The Tajik prosecutor did not clarify though whether the mitigation of punishment would mean a shorter prison term or a suspended sentence.

Gulom Boboyev, the pilots’ lawyer, told the agency that he was not yet aware of the prosecutors’ statement, but would demand a review of the judgment and full acquittal of the pilots since that is what justice requires.

Meanwhile, Tajik prosecutors reportedly forwarded an official request to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, demanding the detention of the head of the Rolkan Investments Ltd air carrier, Sergey Poluyanov.

The Tajik side alleges he is “an accomplice in the crimes” committed by Sadovnichy and Rudenko, reported Itar-Tass, citing Faizullo Kholov, a representative of the Khatlon Region Prosecutor's Office. He stated that Poluyanov was responsible for the actions of the two pilots – his company’s employees. In addition, Rolkan Investments Ltd “was not registered” and its aircraft “had no certificates or any other documents.” Kholov added that he did not consider the case politically-motivated, since “the violation of law” was pretty obvious.

However, Russia will not turn over its citizen to Tajikistan since it is against the constitution of the country. Steps to establish his whereabouts would only be taken if Moscow receives his criminal case files, a source at the Russian Interior Ministry told Interfax.

On November 8, Sadovnichy and Rudenko – who allegedly operated humanitarian flights to Afghanistan – were found guilty of smuggling, illegal crossing of the border of Tajikistan and violation of flight rules. In addition to sentencing the pilots to imprisonment, the Tajik court also ruled to confiscate two An-72 transport airplanes belonging to Rolkan Airlines.

The move was followed by a diplomatic row between Russia and Tajikistan as Moscow was outraged at the sentence considering it to be “politically motivated”. It warned the neighbor of “symmetrical or asymmetrical” response depending on the capital Dushanbe’s reaction. Shortly after that, Russia’s migration service began deporting illegal Tajik immigrants. However, President Dmitry Medvedev said it was only a “coincidence” rather than a one-off campaign and stressed that such deportations in future will be carried out regularly.

It has also been rumored in the media that following the scandal, Russia might introduce a visa regime for Tajik migrant workers.