The New York Times: Polish Newspaper Report on 2010 Crash Causes Furor
A spokesman for Poland’s military prosecutor dismissed the article as “sensationalist,” saying at a news conference on Tuesday that the highly sensitive equipment that experts used to examine the wreckage frequently yielded false positive results.
“It is not true that investigators found traces” of explosives, said the spokesman, Col. Ireneusz Szelag, who added that it might be as long as six months before conclusive test findings were available. “Evidence and opinions collected so far have in no way provided support to the belief that the crash was the result of actions of third parties, that is to say an assassination.”
Later in the day, the newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, partly retracted its report online, saying that the findings about the chemical traces were not as definitive as it had initially said.
Even so, the report seemed likely to increase distrust of the official inquiry into the crash, which concluded that it was an accident. By Tuesday afternoon, public response to the article was so strong that Prime Minister Donald Tusk appeared on television to condemn those who were repeating conspiracy theories about the crash.
“It is unacceptable to formulate these drastic accusations, which are degrading to Polish public discourse,” he said.
The newspaper initially reported that government experts had found traces of explosives, including TNT and nitroglycerin, on as many as 30 seats from the wrecked plane and on a segment of one wing. The newspaper noted that such traces could have come from the ground where the plane crashed, a wooded area near Smolensk that was the scene of intense combat during World War II and may still contain unexploded bombs and shells from that time.
In its later statement, Rzeczpospolita said that while the chemicals that were detected might be TNT and nitroglycerin, they were not necessarily so. The paper defended its report, saying that “in the context of the multiplying conspiracy theories, the delay and hoarding of such important information is incomprehensible.”
The report dominated news broadcasts in Poland all day, edging out coverage of the hurricane that hit the East Coast of the United States. And it split open old wounds that formed around the crash.
In the days afterward, Mr. Tusk mourned publicly at the crash site alongside Vladimir V. Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, in an unusual show of unity. But the more conservative, nationalist faction in Poland represented by Mr. Kaczynski was deeply suspicious that the official inquiries were covering up sabotage by Russia, or perhaps even by their own government.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president’s twin brother and the chairman of Law and Justice, which is now the largest opposition party, called on Tuesday for the government to resign. He then reacted furiously after military prosecutors dismissed the newspaper report.
“It looks like a big hoax,” he said.
The plane was approaching the Smolensk airport preparing to land in a thick fog but missed the runway by about half a mile. It snagged one wing on treetops and broke up, scattering chunks of fuselage across the forest. Russian officials said the Polish president’s crew tried to land despite warnings from Russian air traffic controllers on the ground in Smolensk; Polish analysts maintained that the Russian controllers should not have allowed the approach.
Talk of a conspiracy began almost immediately, with members of Law and Justice saying Russian officials had demanded that witnesses to the crash surrender their cameras and cellphones. Those suspicions have never dissipated, and they received new life over the weekend when a witness who was scheduled to testify before a parliamentary investigation was found hanged in his house in Warsaw, presumably a suicide.
The witness, Remigiusz Mus, was a flight engineer who flew into Smolensk an hour before Mr. Kaczynski’s plane crashed. He had said afterward that Russian air traffic controllers gave his flight’s pilot permission to descend to a low altitude in preparation for landing, contradicting an official investigation by the Interstate Aviation Committee.
In January, a prosecutor linked to the case excused himself during a media briefing and shot himself in the head. He survived.
As the new report about explosive traces rocked the Polish political scene on Tuesday, some observers faulted the government for failing to speak clearly and consistently about the causes of the crash. The new furor was seen as potentially damaging for Mr. Tusk and his party.
“The various ambiguities, uncertainties, the prosecutor’s office’s silence, the lack of consequent actions and then discoveries such as this one will add up, contributing to the rising distrust of those who have conducted the investigation and the rising distrust of the government,” Aleksander Smolar, a political scientist, said in a radio interview.
Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Hanna Kozlowska reported from Warsaw.
Published: October 30, 2012
A version of this article appeared in print on October 31, 2012, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Polish Newspaper Report on 2010 Crash Causes Furor.