Dutch court announces long-awaited MH17 verdict

Dutch court announces long-awaited MH17 verdict


Dutch judges on Thursday will deliver their verdict in the trial of four men accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 amid rising tensions over the current invasion of Russia.

All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a Moscow-supplied missile over separatist-held eastern Ukraine, prosecutors say.

Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko face life imprisonment if convicted of murder and causing a plane crash.

But the four suspects all remain at large and have refused to attend the two-and-a-half-year trial in the Netherlands, which followed an international investigation.

Eight years after the disaster, the region where MH17 crashed has become one of the key battlegrounds in Russia’s nearly nine-month war in Ukraine.

Bereaved families will travel from around the world to the high-security court near Schiphol Airport, near where the doomed plane departed, to hear the verdict from the three-man panel at 12:30 GMT on Thursday.

“If they are guilty, the international community should hunt them down,” Evert van Zijtveld, who lost his daughter Frederique, 19, son Robert-Jan, 18, and in-laws, told AFP.

– ‘Toys lying around’ –

The crash of MH17 caused outrage around the world, with bodies and debris littering Ukraine’s famous sunflower fields. Some victims, including children, were still strapped into their seats.

Prosecutors said the suspects were part of the Kremlin-backed separatist forces and played a key role in getting the BUK missile system into Ukraine from a military base in Russia — even if they didn’t pull the trigger.

Defense attorneys for Pulatov, the only suspect who has legal counsel, argue the trial was unfair.

They say prosecutors failed to prove a BUK missile downed the jetliner and also raised “alternative scenarios” such as a Ukrainian jet firing at it.

Moscow has denied any involvement.

During the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on wiretapped phone calls and cellphone data that allegedly located the suspects near the launch site or at decision centers.

They have also used eyewitness testimony – including an ex-separatist who collapsed while describing “children’s toys lying around” at the crash site – as well as video and photo evidence of the missile’s movements.

Forensic material, including fragments found in the victims’ bodies, was cited to prove it was a BUK missile.

– hope of capture –

Prosecutors say Girkin — a former Russian spy and fan of historical re-enactments who became the so-called defense minister of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic — helped deliver the missile system.

Girkin has recently criticized the Russian military for its conduct of the war and has reportedly volunteered to fight in Ukraine – leading some MH17 relatives to hope he could be captured and sent to the Netherlands.

Dubinsky, who is also linked to Russian intelligence, reportedly served as the chief of the separatists’ military intelligence and was responsible for issuing instructions about the missile.

Pulatov, a former Russian special forces soldier, and Kharchenko, who allegedly led a separatist unit, were subordinates who played a more direct role in getting the missile to the launch site, prosecutors said.

The BUK missile was identified as having come from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk, Russia, based on images and evidence posted on social media, the court heard.

The defendants arranged for the missile to be used to counter Ukrainian air forces, prosecutors said, arguing that under Dutch law it “makes no difference” whether they mistakenly attacked a civilian plane.

The trial took place in the Netherlands as 196 of the victims were Dutch.

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