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New probe faults previous report on 2010 Polish plane crash

Associated Press Associated Press 15/09/2016

WARSAW, Poland — A new Polish state commission reinvestigating the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others accused its predecessors Thursday of doctoring some evidence and manipulating facts.

The crash near Smolensk airport in Russia was one of Poland's worst tragedies since World War II. Among the dead were military commanders, state officials, lawmakers and public figures, and it further strained already-tense relations with Moscow.

The previous investigation team was appointed by Donald Tusk, then Poland's prime minister and now the head of the European Council. In 2011, that team declared the crash a result of Polish pilots' errors and poor guidance by Russian controllers in dense fog and very poor visibility at the rudimentary military airport.

A separate report by Russian experts blamed the Polish crew and the alleged presence of Polish Air Force commander in the cockpit, suggesting he might have pressed for a landing in spite of bad weather conditions. Kaczynski and the others were traveling to ceremonies to honor Polish officers killed by Soviet secret security during the war.

The new probe was sought by the current conservative and nationalist ruling party led by Kaczynski's twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has blamed the crash on Tusk and Russia.

There was no immediate response from Tusk's press office to an Associated Press email seeking comment Thursday.

The new team, announcing preliminary findings, said the 2011 Polish report was the result of "falsifying, manipulating, avoiding and hiding" the truth.

As proof they showed secret footage in which the previous commission's head, then-interior minister Jerzy Miller, suggests to his team that their report should be in line with the Russian one to avoid any questions about inconsistencies and "conspiracy theories."

They said Russian authorities blocked or limited Polish investigators' access to the crash site and to evidence.

Waclaw Berczynski, head of the new commission, said some of the evidence provided by Russia was "manipulated." The commission pointed to the fact that Russia delayed the handing over of the flight recorders.

Russia is refusing to return the wreckage, saying it still needs it for its criminal investigation.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who appointed the commission and is overseeing its work, said the goal is to reveal the circumstances of the crash and not assign blame, but its findings may be used by prosecutors conducting their own probe.

Polish media have reported the prosecutors want to exhume bodies of all victims. Some cases were revealed a few years ago in which bodies were wrongly identified.

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