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Afghanistan Impounds Russian Freight Plane With 'False Tail Number'

Afghanistan lodged the initial request to detain the pilots, Vladimir Sadovnichy (left) and Aleksei Rudenko, who have since been jailed in Tajikistan.
Afghan authorities have impounded a Russian freight plane belonging to an aviation company at the center of a high-profile case that has raised tensions between Tajikistan and Russia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

The cargo plane belonging to Rolkan Investment Ltd. was impounded at Kabul airport because authorities said it had a false registration number.

The plane was leased by the UAE-based company AIR Space, which is owned by an Indian businessman.

Kabul international airport spokesperson Yaqubulla Rasuli told RFE/RL that cargo planes rented by AIR Space work primarily with international organizations in Afghanistan and deliver shipments for a supply firm called Supreme Food. Rasuli said the planes are not registered with the Afghan aviation authorities and their registration numbers are false.

The move follows the high-profile jailing in Tajikistan last week of two pilots working for Rolkan Investment Ltd.

The pilots -- Vladimir Sadovnichy, a Russian, and Estonian citizen Aleksei Rudenko -- were jailed for 8 1/2 years on charges of smuggling, illegally crossing the border, and violating international aviation regulations.

The pair flew Russian An-72 cargo planes from Afghanistan to Tajikistan on March 12. The cargo of one of the planes included a disassembled aircraft engine that was not listed on the customs declaration.

On November 14, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General Sherkhon Salimzoda produced a written request from Afghanistan's Transport Ministry to detain the two planes because they left Afghanistan illegally and did not have proper documents.

Russian Foreign Ministry officials slammed the sentences as politically motivated, and in an apparent retaliatory move, Russia's immigration police began arresting and deporting Tajik migrant workers.

Rolkan Investment Ltd official Valery Pfeyfer, who denied the initial RFE/RL report about the Kabul plane, finally confirmed on November 16 that three of Rolkan's planes were leased by AIR Space, which has a large debt to Afghanistan.

Pfeyfer also confirmed that two An-72 planes are impounded in Tajikistan and one An-74 (a modification of the An-72) is parked in Kabul airport. He said the crew of the third plane are in Afghanistan, but have not been arrested.

Rolkan Investment Ltd is registered in the British Virgin Islands.