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Poland's ex-PM criticised over photos after Smolensk plane crash

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By Matthew Holroyd
Ewa Kopacz briefly served as Poland's Prime Minister between 2014 and 2015.
Ewa Kopacz briefly served as Poland's Prime Minister between 2014 and 2015.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

Poland's former prime minister has been criticised for photos that are claimed to have been taken at post-mortem examinations of victims from a 2010 disaster.

Ewa Kopacz was the country's health minister when a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczyński crashed near Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board.

But new images, broadcast last weekend in a controversial documentary about the disaster, claim to show Kopacz posing alongside body bags at a Russian medical facility. Euronews has been unable to independently verify the images.

In them, Kopacz can be seen wearing a protective apron and gloves while holding the arm of a physician in one photograph. In another, the former health minister is smiling while in conversation with another employee at the morgue. It is not clear whether Kopacz is standing next to the bodies of any victims of the crash in the images.

Kopacz has not responded to repeated Euronews requests to clarify the photographs.

What happened in the Smolensk disaster?

In April 2010, a Polish presidential delegation was travelling to Russia from Warsaw to attend a commemoration on the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

In 1940, thousands of Polish officers were killed by Josef Stalin's secret police during the Second World War in Katyn forest.

The delegation included President Kaczyński and his wife, senior military officers, and 18 members of the Polish Parliament.

But on its journey, the Polish Air Force plane crashed near the city of Smolensk, killing everyone on board.

AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File 2010
Russian and Polish investigations concluded the crash was mainly caused by pilot error.AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File 2010

International investigations have blamed poor weather, pilot error and air traffic controllers for the accident.

But Jaroslaw Kaczynski - Lech's twin brother and leader of the ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) - has disputed the findings.

In 2016, a Polish court charged a former security officer with negligence related to a crash and handed down an 18-month suspended prison sentence.

Analysts say the legacy of the disaster has played a central role in Polish politics in the last decade.

The State of Emergency documentary repeats conspiracy theories about the cause of the plane crash, allegations that are refuted by international investigations.

How have other Polish politicians reacted to the images?

Several high-profile Polish politicians have condemned the photographs of Kopacz. Patryk Jaki, an MEP with the conservative Solidarity Poland party, said the images left him "speechless".

The country's deputy justice minister, Michał Woś, added on Twitter that the pictures were "shameful", while PiS MP Kazimierz Smolinski said the photos were "terrifying".

"These photos are certainly not proof of any assassination attempt, but they are proof of the lack of media training," said Poland's current health minister, Anna-Maria Żukowska.

"Even without such training the average person would not allow themselves to take such photos in such circumstances," Żukowska said on Twitter. "The lack of sensitivity is striking."

Other MPs have questioned why the photos had been withheld from the public until the release of the documentary film.

Donald Tusk, who served as Poland's Prime Minister between 2007 and 2014, has also defended his former health minister.

"While Ewa Kopacz was helping the families of the victims in the most difficult situations, the Law and Justice party was organising a national hacking campaign from a safe hiding place, and so it continues to this day," the former President of the European Council tweeted.

Kopacz became Poland's second female prime minister in 2014 when she succeeded Tusk in the role.

She left the role in 2015 after defeat in the national elections and currently serves as a vice-president to the European Parliament.