The international body believes the bomb threat was faked
An investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) into last year's grounding of a Ryanair flight in Belarus discovered inconsistencies in Minsk's story but could not attribute blame, it has been reported.
On May 23, a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius was forced to make an emergency landing in Minsk due to an alleged bomb threat. Once on the ground, the plane was boarded, and the Belarusian authorities arrested passengers Roman Protasevich, an opposition activist, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
The events were later dubbed "state-sponsored piracy," with some suggesting that the bomb-threat plot was faked to arrest the couple. The event led to many nations banning their airlines from flying in the airspace of Belarus.
More than half a year later, the ICAO, the United Nations' international air navigation agency, has completed a report into the event, due to be presented on January 31. The report is based on data provided to the ICAO by numerous countries.
According to the Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta, which obtained the report, the ICAO investigation team found inconsistencies in the testimony of the Belarusian authorities, such as the time the bomb threat was received. The email, which arrived at the Minsk airport inbox, was allegedly sent at 12:56, according to information obtained from Switzerland through the Lithuanian authorities. However, a screenshot provided by Belarus had a completely different timestamp - 12:25.
The ICAO also noted several instances of Minsk's non-compliance with standard air procedures, according to Novaya. For example, the passengers remained on the aircraft after landing while special services boarded, despite a bomb potentially waiting to explode.
However, according to a quote from the report published by online news site The Aviation Herald, the ICAO investigation did not conclude that Belarus was definitely behind the fake threat.
"As neither a bomb nor evidence of its existence was found during pre-departure screening in Athens, Greece and after various searches of the aircraft in Belarus and Lithuania, it is considered that the bomb threat was deliberately false," the report says. "The Team was unable to attribute the commission of this act of unlawful interference to any individual or State."
Earlier in January, the Deputy Head of the Minsk Department of the Investigative Committee of Belarus, Andrey Motolko, suggested that recordings of conversations between the Belarusian dispatcher and the pilot of the aircraft, distributed by Poland, showed signs of editing and could be fake. He offered no evidence for the claim.