Iran knew one of its missiles had shot down a passenger plane from the start and lied about it for days, Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday, after releasing a leaked recording of a conversation between a pilot and an air traffic controller.
The recording, broadcast on Ukrainian television on Sunday night, has been acknowledged as authentic by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and by the head of the Iranian investigation team.
Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 was downed on January 8 shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew members on board.
It came just hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles against US and coalition forces in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike in Baghdad.
During the conversation in Farsi, a pilot reportedly flying a Fokker 100 jet for Iran’s Aseman Airlines from Iran’s southern city of Shiraz to Tehran on January 8, tells an air traffic controller than he's just seen "a series of lights like ... yes, it is a missile".
"Is there something," he asks, to which the controller replied: "No, how many miles? Where?"
The pilot responds that he saw the light by the Payam airport, near where the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s Tor M-1 anti-aircraft missile was launched from.
The controller says nothing has been reported to them, but the pilot remains insistent.
“It is the light of a missile,” the pilot says.
“Don’t you see anything anymore?” the controller asks.
“Dear engineer, it was an explosion. We saw a very big light there, I don’t really know what it was,” the pilot responds.
The controller then tries to contact the Ukrainian jetliner, but unsuccessfully.
Iran initially refuted accusations that its military had accidentally brought down the plane but as evidence to support the accusation mounted, admitted to it three days later.
The country has since announced that a special probe had been launched and that a number of arrests had been made.
Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the Iranian investigation team said the recording was legitimate on Monday but denounced its release as "unprofessional", saying it was of a confidential report.
Ukrainian investigators travelled to Iran on Monday to help in the decoding efforts although Zelenskiy has said the so-called "black boxes" must be brought back to Kyiv.