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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Russian planes fly to freedom
Su-30 Russian jets
Russia's Su-30 fighter: Too quick for les flics
Two Russian aircraft, seized by French bailiffs at the Paris Air Show over unpaid debts, have escaped.

The planes, a Su-30 fighter and a MiG-AT training fighter, reportedly flew back to Russia on Friday afternoon.

"The Russians, taking note of the situation, obtained permission from French and German air authorities to overfly their territory," air show official Edmond Marchegay said.

Empty parking slot at Paris Air Show
The emply slot after the Su-30 had taken off
It is not yet clear whether an agreement had been brokered between the Russians and the French authorities, or whether the aircraft simply evaded their captors by moving into the restricted military zone of the Le Bourget showground.

The aircraft were impounded on Friday after a complaint was lodged in a French court by Swiss trading firm Noga.

Noga claims to be owed money by the Russian government, with which it was involved in food-for-oil trading deals in the early 1990s.

Both aircraft are owned by Russian state-run firms.

Russian news agency reports from Paris denied the planes had been impounded and said they were beyond the reach of bailiffs.

Last July, the same firm won a court order to impound the Sedov, a Russian tall ship that was participating in a regatta in the French port of Brest.

The Sedov was released 11 days later after a successful appeal from its owner, a Russian university.

Bad feeling

The Sedov seizure caused friction between Paris and Moscow, and this incident turned out to be little different.

A series of Russian politicians accused Noga, and the French authorities, of "provocation".

Despite urging from nationalists, the Russian government refused to consider a retaliatory seizure of a consignment of French Mirage jets, currently in the town of Lipetsk as part of a commemoration of World War II.

Grigory Voskoboinikov, leader of the the 1,000-strong Russian delegation in Paris, said that it could threaten future Franco-Russian collaboration in the aviation sector.

Russia's MiG-AT training fighter
The MiG-AT: Franco-Russian friendship
The MiG-AT plane is the result of a joint venture between Russia's Mikoyan and two French firms, Thales and Snecma.

The Russian foreign ministry was believed to have called in representatives of the French embassy in Moscow to hammer out a solution.

Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said he would try to ensure that the incident did not have any international repercussions.

Jacques Chirac, the French president, is due to visit Moscow on 1 July.

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See also:

19 Jun 01 | Business
Paris Air Show: Rivals in the air
21 Jun 01 | Business
Return of the Soviet behemoth
24 Jul 00 | Europe
Seized Russian ship sets sail
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