What compensation could families of victims of Boeing crash in Iran expect?

Author : Anna Peshkova

Source : 112 Ukraine

After pleading guilty to the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines liner, Tehran offered to pay 80 000 dollars to families of Ukrainians. But president Zelensky was not satisfied with the proposed amount. He considered that this money would not cover the damage to the families of the victims
20:47, 10 February 2020

BBC News

The widow of the commander of the downed crew, Kateryna Gaponenko, for example, wants to receive about $ 9,000 a month - that was her husband’s salary. Gaponenko will be satisfied if payments occur within 12-15 years. This is the period until the daughter comes of age and her husband’s expected retirement. In total, she expects to receive at least 1 296 000 dollars.

Zelensky promises to put pressure on Iran to pay more, as well as file a case to the international court. What are the usual compensations for plane crashes and what will happen if Ukraine and Iran do not come to an agreement?

How will relatives receive payments

Families of the victims will receive payments not only from Iran but also from UIA. The airline bears primary unconditional responsibility for the accident, even if it is not guilty of it. Payments from it will be the first stage of compensation. Subsequently, Iran will have to return the money to the airline.

The Montreal Convention, which Ukraine joined in 2009, provides that the airline must pay a minimum of 22 000 dollars of insurance (550 thousand UAH) to the families of dead passengers. But for families of crew members, smaller payments are envisaged - about 320 000 UAH (12 800 USD) for each deceased. The insurance will be affected by factors such as the presence or absence of children. You can get a maximum of 154 000 dollars, and the average insurance amount is 30-40 000 per family.

The first wave of payments is followed by the second - additional compensation to victims directly from Iran. Just about them, authorities are negotiating now. Typically, such negotiations are attended by representatives of victim states, airline lawyers and insurers.

Related: Iranian journalists under pressure of authorities after PS752 crash, - Reporters Without Borders

In addition, Iran will have to reimburse the owner of the aircraft for the loss of the liner and also part of the funds to the carrier for loss of profit. But this is the last stage of compensation, which has not even been discussed yet.

So far, the families of the victims have received only money from the state. The government reported on the payment of 200 000 UAH of assistance (about 8 000 dollars). For comparison: the daily salary of the head of Naftogaz Andriy Kobolev is about 4 times higher. The state’s bonus will cover only the funeral of the dead, and that’s not a fact: the cost of a plot in a Kyiv cemetery reaches $ 15,000.

But no matter how modest is the help of Ukraine, its presence is already quite good. This payment is optional. For comparison: four years ago, the Russian Airbus A321 crashed in Egypt, taking 224 lives. Egypt refused compensation, and Russia decided to help its citizens. The country paid $ 3,500 for each deceased, almost 2.5 times less than what Ukraine paid.

The families of the victims have been waiting for the main compensation for a month. UIA President Evgeny Dykhne has only reported so far that the amount of support was determined at the first stage, but did not name it. Under the terms of the Montreal Convention, the airline has two months left to pay.

Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne has already asked UIA to accelerate its efforts. But the company is in no hurry to pay about 4 million dollars. UIA has debts: its obligations are almost one billion hryvnias. Flights are cut, and company employees are actively writing for dismissal.

At UIA, the “hole” in the budget is explained by the fact that since 2012, ticket prices have fallen by 4 times. The company also lost 5 billion UAH (2 million USD) due to the closure of the air connection with Russia. But the reason may be corruption: the company does not maintain international financial statements.

In addition to the bankruptcy, the company is also threatened by the fact that Iran may not return the money for compensation. Let us recall the Boeing 777. Malaysia Airlines downed on the territory of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. That time the payment of 5 000 dollars to each family was announced, but neither Russia nor the Donetsk People’s Republic pleads guilty. So the airline did not receive a refund.

It is not surprising that Dykhne said: there will be no payments until the legal fact of the disaster is established and the criminal case is closed. Although Iran pleaded guilty, legal recognition is a lengthy process. So payments can be freezed for a long time.

Insurance can save the situation. The head of UIA says that the compensation is the British insurance company’s responsibility. The airline signed an agreement with it. But its name is not voiced.

Attorney Rostislav Kravets confirms that despite the bankruptcy of UIA, the insurance company can pay victims compensation, and then deal with Iran. Obviously, the "Montreal" insurance conditions can be levied only by large insurance companies, so the hope of receiving money on time still remains.

Related: Iranian journalists under pressure of authorities after PS752 crash, - Reporters Without Borders

As for the second part of payments, then, of course, everything depends on the assistance of Iran.

How much the families of the dead can receive?

After the tragedy, Zelensky did not openly blame Iran, and was generally restrained in his appeal. This outraged many, but experts considered Zelensky’s behavior a good tactic. Perhaps the president was gentle precisely so that Tehran would not freeze the investigation, hand over black boxes to Ukraine and pay compensation to the families of the victims.

Now Zelensky is making a statement in which he shows dissatisfaction with the proposed $ 80,000 per family.

Lawyer Rostislav Kravets endorses the actions of the president. He believes that Ukraine can achieve amounts about three times higher.

“The approximate amount of compensation is from $ 200,000 to infinity,” he says.

But political scientist Andriy Buzarov does not agree with him.

“It was better not to bring all this to the public plane. First work out the amount, and then jointly declare it at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And then it turns out, Iran went forward, offered the amount of payments, and now everyone is criticizing it. Of course, there is no amount that would determine human life. But this ping-pong is wrong, and the situation will only get worse,” Buzarov says.

Most likely, Zelensky’s public statements are related to his attempts to show the Ukrainian public that the case has been taken under personal control. Such steps for his PR are extremely important, because in January the rating of the president for the first time fell below 50%.

If we talk not about the form, but about the content, then it is extremely difficult to assess whether the proposed amount is sufficient. But if you recall how much families of victims received in other crashes, it becomes clear: $ 80 000 is really not enough.

More than 30 years ago, Americans shot down an Iranian passenger Airbus. 290 people were killed, including 66 children. Then the reason was also called a mistake: the Americans took the liner for the enemy fighter of Iran. Compensation amounted to 300 000 dollars for an adult and 150 000 for a child (considering inflation, this is 790 and 400 000 today, respectively).

Also, 30 years ago, an American Boeing 747 crashed into the village of Lockerbie in Scotland. The incident killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 villagers. The investigation showed that the plane was blown up by two Libyans, so their home country compensated for the losses. Each family was paid $ 10 million (26 million today).

Russian Tu-154 was shot down 20 years ago. The Interstate Aviation Committee concluded that the reason was the launch of a Ukrainian rocket during the Russian-Ukrainian exercises in Crimea. 78 people were killed, mostly Israeli citizens. Ukraine paid the families of the victims $ 100 000 each (about 150 000 today), but never pleaded guilty.

When an Israeli airliner was shot down by the Bulgarian military in 1955, Bulgaria paid relatives $ 195 000 (1 877 000) to each family.

Related: Canadian lawyers file lawsuit against Iran over victims of downed Ukrainian plane

The largest amount of payments came from France - $ 1.5 million (almost 5 million today). 40 years ago, a French fighter shot down an Italian DC-9-15 aircraft. The pilot hoped to kill the leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi but hit the plane. 64 adults, 13 children, and 4 crew members were killed.

As you can see, there is no universal compensation. It all depends on the details of the investigation. In our case, a mistake will cost Iran less than deliberate action. The Prosecutor General opened a case for the intentional murder of citizens of Ukraine. If the version is confirmed, compensation can be very high. But experts are mostly inclined to believe that the disaster was not beneficial to Iran since its own citizens were on board.

Also, a lot depends on whether the representatives of Ukraine will be able to force the completion of the international commission investigation and obtain the signature of the Iranian government on this document. Legal recognition secures the responsibility of the state for the disaster. In the case of the downed Tu-154 in 2001, Ukraine pleaded guilty to the media space, but didn’t legally do so, which allowed it to eventually not pay the damage to Siberia Airlines.

A legal opinion is also necessary because the situation in Iran is unstable. The power in the country may change, and then negotiations on compensation may not be as successful as it is now.

Waiting for the promised

It must be understood that having proposed negotiations, Iran made a big step towards Ukraine. In all the cases described above, the families of the victims received their money only years later, and these compensations were only voluntary. Damage is usually compensated to avoid exacerbation of the scandal. International institutions are practically powerless in this matter.

Bulgaria and Washington paid compensation to the families of the victims eight years after the disaster. At the same time, the US did not bear legal responsibility, there were no sanctions against the country, and the States even awarded the fighter commander for the service. If we talk about the longest compensation, then Libya paid only 15 years later, in exchange for the complete lifting of the economic sanctions that “strangled” Tripoli.

Strong winds, cloudiness, and a dust storm became fatal for the Libyan Boeing 727 crew. The plane lost its course on Egypt and ended up in the territory, which at that time was under the control of Israel. Israeli fighters unsuccessfully tried to contact the plane and concluded that the liner was hijacked. Compensation for the shelling was paid only when the United Nations and the United States condemned the actions of Israel in its resolution. And then Israel insisted until the very end that the crew was to blame.

Culprits of tragedies may even refuse compensation. This is what the authorities of the former USSR did. In 1983, a Soviet fighter fired two missiles at a South Korean passenger Boeing 747 over Sakhalin. It was mistaken for an American reconnaissance aircraft. 269 people were killed. The USSR not only did not apologize and did not pay compensation, but also billed South Korea for keeping passengers. Anti-Soviet actions did not help, and years later, the international commission came to the conclusion that all the blame lies with the incompetence of the Korean crew.

In bidding for compensation, Iran can recall all these cases and use the argument about the lengthy lawsuits that will await Ukraine. But also the Iranian authorities understand that they themselves can be pressured. Given this practice, Iran’s willingness to pay compensation to victims without a hitch is very positive.

“The situation itself is better than it could be because Iran has taken the full political responsibility. This is a rare case, because it usually comes to courts. But we have taken some not very constructive position: we criticize Iran, we say that it owes us something. We must proceed from the possibilities to influence the country. We do not have them. Under international law, Iran can do anything with black boxes. While criticizing, we only interfere with the investigation. It also plays a minus that we were given information in the framework of investigations, but there was a leak in the media. Because of this, the Iranians no longer trust us, and everything can be complicated,” international expert Ilia Kusa says.

Related: Canadian lawyers file lawsuit against Iran over victims of downed Ukrainian plane

Kusa understands the position of the victims' relatives but recalls that they can have little effect. In addition, Iran owes compensation not only to Ukraine but also to other countries (for example, Canada), as well as its citizens.

What will happen if Iran refuses compensation?

Kusa does not consider the option of cutting off relations between countries, as there are no contradictions so far. The country allowed our groups to search and rescue, provided Ukrainian experts with all the necessary data and takes care of their image.

But if the countries do not agree or one of the victims does not agree with the amount of compensation, the case will be referred to court. This is also possible if Iran does not legally plead guilty. At least that was the Ukrainian position.

Most likely, there will be several trials, because all the victims will not be able to act as one plaintiff. Also, if the families of the deceased decide to change the number of payments, the processes promise to be extremely complex. In this situation, several questions arise.

    In which court will we defend the rights of the victims and the airline?

According to international law, the country in which territory the disaster occurred can conduct investigations as it wants. So, most likely, these will be the courts of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

But Rostislav Kravets believes that everything will not be limited to Iranian courts alone. According to him, Ukrainian and even Canadian courts can consider the case, depending on the citizenship of the victims. You can also sue at the place of registration of the airline.

As for international courts, everything is more complicated. Some experts believe that the case is not related to the UN International Court of Justice, as it has no signs of an interstate dispute. The European Court of Human Rights cannot be appealed either, because Iran is located outside Europe.

    How to get funds

Wherever the trial takes place, the decision will still need to be implemented in Iran. Due to US sanctions, Iran is not a member of international payment systems. It does not have free cash and assets. So you can transfer money only through some countries that have diplomatic immunity. By the way, this is relevant to the peaceful settlement of the issue.

If Iran refuses to comply with the court decision, it will be necessary to search for Iran’s property in other countries and arrest it. For example, Iran has a bank account in the United States.

But the reason is not just Iran. Professor and Doctor of Philology Mykyta Vasylenko recalls that the United States unleashed aggression by killing Iranian General Kassem Suleimani, and Iran was only defending itself. Compensation could be received from the States, but legally for Ukraine, there is no such mechanism for compensation.

And Iran itself has space for action. State representatives have already announced their intention to demand compensation from the United States for $ 130 billion. Iran has a chance to win: 20 years ago, the White House paid money to China for hitting the embassy in Yugoslavia during the bombing of Belgrade.

Related: Iranian leader announces strengthening of army amid tension with U.S.


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