A final report due within weeks from the International Civil Aviation Organisation is expected to single out Belarus authorities as the source of the emailed bomb threats that forced a Ryanair jet to land in the country last year, according to a senior EU official.
The findings will potentially trigger criminal actions in a number of jurisdictions including Ireland.
After the jet landed in Minsk en route from Athens to Vilnius, a prominent critic of the Belarus government – headed by Russia’s ally Aleksandr Lukashenko – was removed from the plane by the country’s authorities and arrested.
A senior EU source told the Irish Independent that a final report due within weeks from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is expected to single out Belarus authorities as the source of emailed bomb threats used as a pretence for forcing the Ryanair jet to land.
The source said that the final ICAO report may result in criminal proceedings “in certain jurisdictions”.
ICAO has already found that the emailed bomb threats were “deliberately false and had endangered the safety of an aircraft in flight”.
“The report didn’t say who was responsible,” the source pointed out, adding that the final ICAO report could be available “very soon”.
“We think that… it’s very important that this hijacking is condemned,” said the source. “There could be criminal cases in certain jurisdictions against Belarus persons. It’s possible and likely.”
Ryanair group chief executive Michael O’Leary branded the forced landing in May last year as “state-sponsored piracy” and “state-sponsored hijacking”. A Belarus military jet had intercepted the Ryanair plane. Mr O’Leary has said he believes Belarus intelligence personnel were on the Ryanair plane.
Two people were removed from the plane when it landed in Minsk – journalist Roman Protasevich, and his partner, student Sofia Sapega. She was sentenced last month to six years in jail for “inciting social enmity and discord”. Mr Protasevich is still awaiting trial.
Since the initial ICAO fact-finding report was published last January additional investigations have taken place, it is understood.
The Ryanair incident resulted in sanctions being imposed on Belarus. Those sanctions included measures against specific individuals including those that support President Lukashenko and a number of organisations. The EU also banned Belarus airlines from its airspace.
The initial fact-finding report highlighted several glaring gaps in the information provided to ICAO by Belarus for its investigation. ICAO noted that it had not been given access to phone records, for example, because Belarus authorities claimed that to do so would have breached the regime’s laws that grant its citizens “protection from unlawful interference in their private life”.
The emailed bomb threats had been sent to within the space of three minutes to airports in Vilnius, Athens, Sofia and Bucharest, while the Ryanair jet was over Ukraine’s airspace but just about to enter Belarus airspace.
The final report is also due to be forwarded to the United Nations secretary general.