Russia charges soldiers over Polish plane wreck theft

Russian security forces at scene of Polish president's plane crash Russian security forces secured the scene of the plane crash in April

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Russian prosecutors say four soldiers have been charged with stealing the credit cards of a passenger killed when the Polish president's plane crashed in Russia in April.

About 6,000 Polish zloty (£2,000) was withdrawn on the cards, according to Polish investigators.

Russia initially denied both the theft and arrests had taken place.

Russia's defence ministry now says it will pay compensation if the suspects' guilt is confirmed.

The Russian prosecutor's investigations office said four Russian soldiers had been charged with "theft carried out by a group with premeditation", according to state media.

Three of the four soldiers had previous criminal convictions, including robbery and counterfeiting, the prosecutor's office said.

The soldiers have already admitted their involvement, a spokesman was quoted by Itar-Tass and Ekho Moskvy as saying. The Russian reports said the sum stolen was more than 60,000 roubles (£1,300).

'Embarrassing admission'

The men had been responsible for sealing off the crash site at Smolensk airport.

The Polish government plane crashed on 10 April, killing President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.

On Monday Monika Lewandowska, a spokeswoman for Warsaw prosecutors, said that the first withdrawal on two stolen cards was made about two hours after the crash.

Ms Lewandowska said other withdrawals took place over the next three days.

The cards belonged to Andrzej Przewoznik, a historian who oversaw wartime memorials in Poland.

He was one of a high-level delegation of Poles on their way to commemorate the 1940 Katyn massacre of more than 20,000 Poles by Soviet forces.

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says this is a highly embarrassing admission by the Russian authorities - having initially denied the allegations.

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