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Suspended Prison Term in 2010 Death of Poland's President

  • Associated Press

FILE - The wreckage of the Polish Tupolev Tu-154M presidential aircraft that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others is seen at the airport in Smolensk, Oct. 1, 2010.

FILE - The wreckage of the Polish Tupolev Tu-154M presidential aircraft that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others is seen at the airport in Smolensk, Oct. 1, 2010.

A Polish court on Tuesday convicted and handed a suspended prison term to a former deputy head of government security over the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.

The verdict by the Warsaw Provincial Court was the first conviction in the April 10, 2010, crash of Poland's presidential plane in Smolensk, Russia. The first lady, army commanders, central bank head and other top state officials were also killed in the crash.

Gen. Pawel Bielawny was found guilty of knowingly neglecting his duties and exposing Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk to danger by failing to order a proper inspection of the rudimentary Smolensk airport and, in the president's case, failing to send experienced officers to await the plane's landing. Tusk had landed safely three days earlier at the same airport.

The court said it was a mistake of the organizers to have chosen an almost unused airport as a landing place for top state officials.

The former deputy head of the Government Protection Bureau, or BOR, was given an 18-month suspended sentence and a 10,000-zloty (2,270-euro) fine.

The verdict is subject to appeal.

Kaczynski's plane crashed in dense fog on approach to Smolensk airport. Separate commissions of aviation experts in Poland and in Russia blamed the crash on insufficient training of the crew and on human error in adverse circumstances. Tusk's landing was in good visibility, but the court also saw security shortcomings in the organization of his flight.

Poland is currently governed by the conservative Law and Justice party led by Kaczynski's twin, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is intent on finding and punishing those guilty of his brother's death.

"I hope there will be more court verdicts'' in the case, Kaczynski said in reaction to the verdict.

He blames his brother's death on Tusk and on his government, arguing they intentionally neglected the security of a president they were not getting along with well.

In a separate trial over the crash, another member of Tusk's government is facing accusations of negligence brought by the families of some of the victims.

President Kaczynski was traveling to attend ceremonies in memory of thousands of Polish army officers killed in 1940 by the Soviet secret security in the Katyn forest, near Smolensk, and elsewhere.

Some Law and Justice members claim the crash was an assassination and that explosives had been placed onboard the plane, by forces in Poland and in Russia, but the court said Tuesday it found no grounds to say there was an assassination attack.

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