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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grounded Aeroflot Jet Flies Back To Moscow

An Airbus 310 jet belonging to Russian flag carrier Aeroflot landed in Moscow on Wednesday afternoon after being detained at Montreal airport for a day over a debt owed to the airline's Canadian joint-venture partner.

The incident promised to escalate into an international incident when the Kremlin summoned the Canadian Ambassador Anne Leahy late Tuesday to protest the aircraft's seizure.

"First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov expressed concern at what happened at Montreal airport, which affected the interests of Russian citizens, the Aeroflot passengers," a Foreign Ministry statement said, adding that hopefully the incident would not affect Canadian-Russian relations.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized the airplane's fuel, emergency equipment and duty-free goods Monday afternoon against settlement of a legal judgment according to which Aeroflot owes $5.8 million to Halifax-based IMP Group. IMP and Aeroflot are partners in a joint venture that runs the Aerostar Hotel in Moscow.

The plane was released after Aeroflot paid part of the money Tuesday evening.

Aeroflot chief executive Valery Okulov has promised to take the Canadian police to court over the incident. The airline was forced to lease another aircraft at the rate of $3,000 per hour to ferry the 50 passengers on board the Airbus back to Moscow, he said.

Aeroflot spokesman Alexander Luchaninov said Wednesday the airline is still "analyzing the situation."

He said Aeroflot was shocked by the seizure, especially because it had been planning to transfer the sum as soon as it learned the bank particulars of its former partner.

Aeroflot transferred part of the money yesterday and plans to pay the rest within a week, Luchaninov said.

"But we are clear on one thing -- there will be no seizures of airplanes belonging to Canada or anyone else," Luchaninov said. "[the Canadian action] was a violation of all legal or ethical norms, the kind of thing that is just not done in civilized countries."

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy justified the action.

"We've been warning [Aeroflot] that there was a whole series of problems and that unless there was accordance within the proper law standards, IMP could take proper legal action in Canada," he said.

IMP officials have confirmed that the plane was seized on their request.

Canadian Embassy officials could not be reached for comment.

The joint venture created in 1991 soured in 1994 when the Canadians alleged they were being muscled out by the Russian side. The group has so far been unable to enforce numerous Russian and international judgments in their favor.

Luchaninov said Aeroflot plans to appeal the ruling handed down last year by the International Chamber of Commerce Arbitration Tribunal in Stockholm.

"In that case, we may get our money back," he said.

(Reuters, AP, MT)