A new Polish commission reinvestigating the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others has accused its predecessors of doctoring 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 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, 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 a 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 nationalist ruling party led by Kaczynski's twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has blamed the crash on Tusk and Russia.
The new team, announcing preliminary findings on September 15, said the 2011 Polish report was the result of "falsifying, manipulating, avoiding, and hiding" the truth.
"Some of the elements were tampered with," commission head Waclaw Berczynski said.
His colleague Kazimierz Nowaczyk alleged that three seconds had been cut from one of the black-box recordings, while five seconds were deleted from the other.
As proof they showed secret footage in which the previous commission's head, then-Interior Minister Jerzy Miller, suggested to his team that their report should be in line with the Russian one to avoid any questions about inconsistencies and "conspiracy theories."
Moreover, they said Russian authorities blocked or limited Polish investigators' access to the crash site and to evidence.
Berczynski said some of the evidence provided by Russia was "manipulated." The commission pointed to the fact that Russia delayed handing over the flight recorders.
Russia also has refused to return the wreckage, saying it still needs the evidence for its own criminal investigation.
Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who appointed the commission and is overseeing its work, said the goal was to reveal the circumstances of the crash and not assign blame.
But the new investigation's findings were dismissed by an expert who worked on the original report.
"These are just words," Maciej Lasek, head of the Committee for Investigation of National Aviation Accidents, told TVN24, while he told TASS that no one deleted anything from the black-box recordings.
The accusations of rigging results are due to "an absolute lack of understanding of the principles of the black boxes and the synchronization of data," he said.
"The main problem of this group is none of its members have ever investigated air accidents," Lasek said, noting that "none of the new investigators visited the accident site" in Smolensk.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and TASS