The United States Department of Justice has charged four Belarusian officials with aircraft piracy after the diversion of Ryanair flight FR 4978 on May 23rd, 2021. The flight was diverted to Minsk over the threat of a bomb onboard the aircraft, something that the DOJ says was fabricated by Belarusian Government Authorities.
Threats against aviation always need to be taken seriously due to the catastrophic consequences possible if they pan out. This is why a Vietnam Airlines 787 flying from Tokyo diverted earlier this month. The DOJ says that the Belarusian Government fabricated such a report to detain a Belarusian journalist living in exile from the country.
Four people charged with Air Piracy
The United States Attorney’s Office has charged four high-ranking Belarusian government officials with one count of conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy over last year’s Ryanair incident. The DOJ’s charges come after a detailed investigation into the matter led by the FBI. Interestingly, it comes just days after ICAO released its report on the event.
The four individuals facing charges are,
- Leonid Mikalaevich Churo – Director-General of Belaeronavigatsia, the Belarusian state air navigation authority
- Oleg Kazyuchits – Deputy Director-General of Belaeronavigatsia
- Andrey Anatolievich Lnu – Belarusian state security services
- Fnu Lnu – Belarusian state security services
According to the investigation, Churo “personally communicated” the fake bomb threat to the Minsk ATC facility before the flight even took off from Athens. Kazyuchits is said to have falsified incident reports. Fnu Lnu helped convey the fake threat and directed radio communications to the flight. He also relayed the progress to Antolievich, his direct superior. The DOJ reiterated that the charges are accusations at this point and that the defendants remain innocent until proven guilty.
FR 4978 was flying from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, when the piracy occurred. The aircraft had been heading towards the Belarus/Lithuania border when it was instructed to divert to Minsk.
At the time of the diversion, Vilnius was less than half the distance of Minsk, meaning that a landing at the airport would’ve been quicker than flying to Minsk. The DOJ report alleges that Fnu Lnu was worried the flight’s pilots were stalling for time to enter Lithuanian airspace, which would render the plot a failure.
Distance from beginning of #FR4978 diversion (N53.97,E25.22) to:
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 23, 2021
Will the defendants face justice?
The DOJ revealed that all four defendants are “based in Belarus and remain at large”. With no extradition treaties in place between the two countries, it seems unlikely that the US will be able to prosecute them in person. The DOJ did comment that it would work with foreign partners to bring the defendants to justice.
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Commenting on the charges, US Attorney Damian Williams said,
“Since the dawn of powered flight, countries around the world have cooperated to keep passenger airplanes safe. The defendants shattered those standards by diverting an airplane to further the improper purpose of repressing dissent and free speech.”
What do you make of the DOJ’s case? Do you think the four will be brought to justice? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!