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Dutch to put four on trial over MH17 crash

  • Published at 11:36 am June 19th, 2019
Flight MH17-Russia-Ukrain
Wilbert Paulissen of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) addresses at the press conference of the JIT on the ongoing investigation of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash in 2014, in Nieuwegein, The Netherlands, 19 June 2019 AFP

The identities of the four people to be charged were not immediately available but a Ukrainian minister and reports said they included at least one senior Russian officer

Dutch prosecutors are to put four people on trial for murder next year over the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine, in which 298 people were killed, relatives said on Wednesday.

The court case over the crash of the Malaysia Airlines plane will start in the Netherlands in March 2020, according to family members who were briefed ahead of an announcement by international investigators due about 1100 GMT.

The identities of the four people to be charged were not immediately available but a Ukrainian minister and reports said on Tuesday they included at least one senior Russian officer.

The airliner travelling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was torn apart in mid-air after being hit by a missile over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists on July 17, 2014, investigators say.

"There is a court case on March 9 2020 against four people for murder," Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters.

"I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced. It's a start. I'm satisfied."

The charges come nearly a year after the international probe into the crash said the BUK missile which hit the Boeing 777 had originated from a Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.

Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: "Mr (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. 

"Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person."

Russia has vehemently denied all involvement in the shooting down of MH17. On Wednesday it complained of being excluded from the probe despite "proactively" trying to be involved.

"You know our attitude towards this investigation. Russia had no opportunity to take part in it even though it showed initiative from... the very first days of this tragedy," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Ukraine's deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal said on Tuesday that four people would be named over MH17 and senior Russian army officers were involved.

Zerkal said the transfer of weapons like the BUK anti-aircraft missile system "is impossible without the Russian top brass's permission."

Dutch media have named several suspects including the head of the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, the Russian unit identified by the probe last year.

'First step to trial' 

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally "hold Russia responsible" for the disaster, after the findings on the origin of the missile were announced. 

Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian. Any trial is likely to be in the Netherlands where the majority of the victims came from.

The suspects could be tried in absentia as Russia does not extradite its nationals for prosecution, said Dutch broadcaster RTL, quoting anonymous sources.

"After five years, it is finally clear that justice will be done. This is very important for surviving relatives," Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims' association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP.

Investigative website Bellingcat on Wednesday named a series of Ukrainian separatists that it said were linked to the downing of MH17, based on phone intercepts previously revealed by the Dutch-led team.  

Russian denials

The Dutch safety board said in 2015 that the plane had been hit by a BUK missile, with the JIT reaching the same conclusion in 2016.

Then in May 2018 the JIT said MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile from Russia's 53rd brigade, but that they were still searching for suspects.

They showed videos and animation of the BUK launcher as part of a Russian military convoy, using video clips found on social media and then checked against Google Maps, as it travelled from Kursk to eastern Ukraine.

Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev's forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era. 

The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.

Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.

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