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Criminal probe could be held over sanctions-busting Inverness-Moscow flight – but transport chiefs don’t want to tell you

A private charter left the Highland capital despite a flight ban two days after Putin's forces invaded Ukraine

The private jet which travelled from Inverness to Moscow.

A criminal investigation could be held into a sanctions-busting private charter flight from Inverness Airport to Moscow, we can reveal.

UK Government transport chiefs refused to rule out an inquiry – but said they can neither “confirm nor deny” whether a probe is already under way.

Inverness MP Drew Hendry is demanding Tory ministers finally provide “clear answers” over the “murky affair”.

Mystery continues to surround the private charter that was allowed to depart the Highland capital on February 26 last year, bound for Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.

The flight on an Estonian-registered jet came two days after Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine and 12 hours after a ban on Russian flights came into force.

The identities of the passengers have never been revealed, but it is believed to have been a family of three.

Drew Hendry MP. Image: Parliament TV.

At the time, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps publicly said Inverness Airport had “failed to comply” with the ban, which was introduced through a Notice to Air Missions, known as a Notam, the day before the departure.

The Department for Transport at Westminster initially said it would “investigate any potential breaches” of the notice.

But it is now refusing to confirm whether any investigation has ever been held.

One of the reasons it has given for keeping details of any probe secret was that revealing them might “prejudice the prevention or detection of a crime”.

We asked if this meant there was a live criminal investigation under way in relation to the flight, but the DFT insisted it could neither “confirm nor deny” its existence, because doing so could “prejudice” any investigation.


Mr Hendry, the SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, called for clarity.

“From the start, this has been a murky affair, and the answers from the transport minister have been unsatisfactory,” he said.

“There must be transparency from the UK Government over this flight and how it came to be allowed to take off from Inverness Airport.

“If there are criminal investigations, then we should at least know the basis for these.

“Otherwise, how can the public know if they are directly related to this action.”

Inverness to Moscow flight row. Image: DC Thomson

The National Crime Agency said it would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

Police Scotland have said they are not involved in any probe, however.

The Metropolitan Police said it could not respond to our request for comment.

Bosses at Inverness Airport are understood to be unaware of any criminal inquiry.

Russia sanctions

Mr Hendry highlighted the recent case of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s notorious Wagner group of mercenaries, who was allowed to get around UK sanctions to sue a British journalist.

“UK sanctions have already proved unsatisfactory when it comes to some individuals,” the SNP MP said.

“As we have seen in the Yevgeny Prigozhin case, people need confidence that there is no smokescreen here, and I call again on ministers to provide some clear answers.”

We asked for details of the DFT’s investigation into the Inverness-Moscow flight under freedom of information laws.

The government department refused the request, citing five different exemptions to the legislation, including that releasing the information “would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of a crime”.

Inverness Airport. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Another of the exemptions related to the disclosure of legal advice, suggesting the DFT has consulted lawyers in relation to an investigation into the flight.

The same department previously used the same exemption when refusing to release communications involving Mr Shapps in relation to the Inverness to Moscow flight.

The private jet travelled from Moscow to Geneva and then onto Amsterdam on February 25 last year, before flying to Inverness, then Moscow and back to Geneva on the following day.

We previously reported that Panaviatic, the charter company, was linked to a bank at the centre of an Estonian money laundering probe.