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Asylum-seeker Accused of Hijacking, Extradition Sought

May 28, 1987

MOSCOW (AP) _ Soviet officials on Thursday accused a fired Aeroflot airline employee of hijacking a crop-dusting plane to Sweden and asked authorities there to return the man and the aircraft he ditched in the Baltic Sea.

The official Tass news agency published the accusation and the request for extradition of 24-year-old Roman Svistunov, who has asked Sweden for asylum.

Svistunov waded ashore on the Swedish island of Gotland Wednesday after flying the single-engine AN-2 biplane 100 miles from an airfield in Soviet Latvia. Svistunov, a trained pilot, had no passengers.

The Swedish Defense Ministry scrambled jetfighters to investigate when the low-flying crop-duster was picked up on radar, ministry spokesman H.G. Wessburg said in Stockholm. Svistunov had apparently ditched the plane by the time the warplanes reached the area.

Tass did not say how the matter was raised with Swedish authorities, and the Swedish Embassy here had already closed for the night when the news agency issued its statement.

Helena Bothorp, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry in Stockholm, told The Associated Press there that the Soviet complaint was delivered to the embassy in Moscow, but she had no further comment.

Soviet defectors to Sweden in the past have been granted political asylum upon request, including a case last summer when a seaman brought a fishing boat to Sweden.

The brief Tass statement described Svistunov’s action as a ″criminal act″ and said he had ″lived on unearned incomes over the past two years″ following his discharge from the Soviet airline. The reference to Svistunov’s livelihood appeared to be a charge of black-marketeering.

″The Soviet side requested the Swedish authorities to extradite the hijacker and return the plane and property on board,″ the statement added. It gave no other information, including why Svistunov had been fired from Aeroflot.

Uno De Fine Licht, police chief of Visby on Gotland, said Wednesday that Svistunov asked for asylum after ditching the plane near Gotland and was being held in custody.

He said Svistunov was a former resident of Nikolaev, a town near the Black Sea port of Odessa in the Ukraine, and that he had been working as a farm laborer since leaving Aeroflot.

The plane was flown from a collective farm in Latvia, where Svistunov had been visiting a friend, De Fine Licht said, adding that Svistunov told a guard at the airfield that he was going to make some repairs to the plane.

Svistunov left a wife and two children in the Soviet Union but had not been living with them recently, the police chief said.

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