Sunday, July 23, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

President pardons Purulia case convicts

CALCUTTA, July 22 (PTI) — Five Latvians, sentenced to life imprisonment in the 1995 Purulia armsdrop case, were released today and handed over to the Russian authorities following commutation of their sentence by the President.

They were released after President K.R. Narayanan commuted their life sentence following an appeal by the Russian Government, West Bengal Jail Minister Biswanath Chowdhury told PTI. Mr Narayanan has also remitted the fine, if unpaid so far.

The Latvians were released from the Presidency Jail this morning under strict security and driven straight to the Russian Consulate here.

A large number of reporters, who had assembled outside the jail premises and the Russian Consulate were not even allowed a glimpse of the released Latvians who were the crew members of a Russian AN-26 aircraft from which arms were dropped.

Mr Chowdhury said the release followed a communication from Onkar Singh, Director of Judicial Department, Government of India , to the West Bengal Judicial Secretary that the President had shown clemency to the five Latvian convicts under Article 72 of the Indian Constitution.

Mr Chowdhury said Alexi L. Sebersin, a senior official of the Russian Embassy in New Delhi, airdashed to Calcutta to receive the five convicts serving life term at the Presidency Jail here.

Accordingly, the Chief Secretary and the Judicial Secretary intimated the jail authority about the President’s clemency and asked them to hand over the convicts to Sebersin, the minister said.

The five convicts are Alexander Klichin, Igor Timmerman, Igor Moskvitin, Oleg Gaidasch and E. Antimenko.

The city Civil and Sessions Court passed life sentences on the five Latvians and the prime accused, Peter Bleach, a British national, for their involvement in dropping huge quantity of arms from an aircraft in some villages in Purulia district of West Bengal on the night of December 17, 1995.

The Russian interest in the release of the Latvians came to the fore after their relatives sought Russian government’s help and subsequently Russian Ambassador in India Alexander M. Kadakin visited the Latvians in the jail on April 14 this year.

The Russian envoy, who had pleaded for mercy and compassion for the five Latvians, had then discussed with the convicts ‘possible support’ his country might provide to them.

Incidentally, the release of the Latvians came even as their appeal against the conviction is lying before a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court since April.

The Russian envoy had asked the Russian Consul-General in Calcutta to provide all legal assistance to the Latvians.

The city Civil and Sessions Court, Calcutta, had on February 2 sentenced British national Peter Bleach and the five Latvians to rigorous imprisonment for life and fined Rs 25,000 each on charge of conspiring to wage war against the State in the armsdrop case.

Pronouncing sentence under provisions of Section 121-A of the IPC, the court’s fourth Bench Judge P.K. Biswas described the case as “rarest of the rare” and a clear case of putting the safety and security of the country at stake.

A huge cache of arms and ammunition was dropped from the AN-26 aircraft on Jhalda, Ghatanga, Belamu, Maramu villages of Purulia district on the night of December 17, 1995.

The arms included 241 AK-47/56 assault rifles, 79 anti-tank grenades, 62 hand grenades, 10 rocket launchers and 11 nine-mm pistols, besides 3,853 rounds of nine-mm ammunition.

New Delhi: Russia on Saturday thanked India for the release of the five Latvians.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spoke to External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh from Okinawa by telephone and sincerely thanked the government for the “humane gesture” and said this was greatly appreciated by the “government and people of the Russian Federation, ” an official press note said here.

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