Airline drops charges over pensioner 'bomber'

We have accepted the passenger's apology,' Etihad says of cancer-stricken Frenchman after incident on Bankok aircraft.

ABU DHABI // Etihad Airways yesterday dropped criminal charges against a French pensioner who was accused of making bomb threats on a flight from the capital to Bangkok in January. But Jean-Louis Lioret is not in the clear yet. Prosecutors objected to the charges being dropped, saying other passengers were affected by the alleged bomb hoax, and the Federal Supreme Court said it will decide only next month whether his trial would continue.

Mr Lioret, 66, was accused of making "comments threatening the security of the aircraft" by airline personnel while passengers were boarding for a flight to Bangkok. Saif Mohammed al Suwaidi, the director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said at the time that Mr Lioret made a "direct threat on the aircraft". "The report I received said he clearly declared he had a bomb," Mr al Suwaidi said.

But Mr Lioret's brother said the Frenchman was only making a joke; when a fellow passenger asked to place a package next to him, he claims to have replied: "I hope it's not a bomb." Mr Lioret maintained this position at the Supreme Court yesterday, and denied an accusation that he declared he had a bomb in his bag. Mr al Suwaidi could not be reached for comment. An Etihad representative said in court that the airline was dropping its request for financial damages.

A spokesman for the airline explained: "Whenever a passenger makes comments threatening the safety of an aircraft - such as in this case, where he referred to a bomb on board - Etihad is required to put the matter in the hands of the police. "We have since accepted the passenger's apology, and Etihad now considers the matter closed." But prosecutors objected. "Can you make it up for the people who were on the plane?" one asked the court.

The judges said they would announce on April 5 whether Mr Lioret will continue to stand trial in the criminal case. All cases involving state security are heard by Supreme Court. The French Embassy had previously expressed concerns over Mr Lioret's detention at Al Wathba prison because he has been undergoing cancer treatment, and was being treated at the facility's infirmary. He was present in court yesterday, but was not in custody. It was unclear when he was released from Al Wathba.

A lawyer who was present with Mr Lioret declined to comment. In a statement issued yesterday, the French Embassy also declined to comment on the court proceedings, saying: "It is a matter which is considered by the court. We do not comment [on] judicial proceedings and we fully trust the justice in [the] United Arab Emirates." * With additional reporting by Charlie Hamilton