Polish authorities have found the remains of two other people in the coffin of former president Lech Kaczyński while investigating the plane crash in Russia that killed him and 95 others in 2010.
The caskets of 11 further victims also contained body parts of others, prosecutors said after examining 24 coffins from the crash, which some officials of the ruling rightwing party have blamed on an explosion aboard, without providing evidence.
The April 2010 crash near the western Russian city of Smolensk – the worst such disaster for Poland since the second world war – has left Polish society deeply divided over the cause despite the previous, centrist government’s conclusion from its own investigation that a pilot error was to blame.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by Kaczyński’s twin brother Jarosław, took direct control of the prosecutor’s office and moved to re-examine the crash after coming to power in late 2015, saying the previous investigation was not conducted properly.
On Thursday, the deputy prosecutor general, Marek Pasionek, told reporters that in 12 of 24 coffins reopened since last year, bodies had been swapped twice; one coffin contained half the body of another person while nine other caskets held scattered remains of other victims.
He said the coffin of the archbishop Miron Chodakowski contained only the upper half of his body while the lower half belonged to late general and military bishop Tadeusz Płoski.
In the coffin of General Bronisław Kwiatkowski there were 14 body parts belonging to seven other people, Pasionek said, adding that postmortem examinations would be finished by next April.
In Moscow, the Kremlin and Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to calls and emails asking for comment.
|Lech Kaczyński. Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images|
The government’s move to reopen the coffins had split families of victims between those who mistrusted the post-crash procedures conducted in Russia and those who wanted their loved ones to be left to rest in peace.
While some high-ranking PiS officials repeatedly suggested that a bomb onboard brought down the plane, the PiS-led investigation has not produced supporting evidence but has turned up the apparent failure of postmortems conducted in Russia to correctly identify the victims.
The plane crash occurred as pilots tried to land the Polish delegation in a Soviet-made TU-154 plane near Smolensk to take part in commemorations of thousands of Polish officers executed there by Soviet secret police in 1940.
The victims’ coffins were sealed in Russia and returned to Poland within two weeks of the plane crash. Last year, Polish prosecutors ordered the coffins to be reopened.
The findings could worsen relations with Moscow – already strained over the conflict in Ukraine – but may also ease divisions in Polish society.
Radosław Sikorski, foreign minister under the previous government, told TVN24 on Monday, when some of the findings were leaked: “It seems that these postmortems have been conducted diligently and they finally seem to have convinced some of our compatriots that there was no assassination.”
Russia has so far refused to return the wreckage of the jet to Poland, a member of Nato and the European Union, citing its own continuing investigation.