The Netherlands has charged four men with shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014.
The country’s public prosecution service said on Wednesday (European time) it had issued international arrest warrants for three Russian nationals and one from the Ukraine in relation to the incident where 298 people were killed. The men have also been placed on national and international lists of wanted persons.
“Based on the investigative results of the Joint Investigation Team it has been decided that four suspects will be prosecuted for their alleged roles in the downing of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014,” JIT coordinator Fred Westerbeke said.
“Therewith the Dutch criminal proceedings will start.”
The JIT that investigates the downing of flight MH17, today announced that the Dutch Prosecution Service has named four suspects. The investigation will continue. The first court date will be in March 2020. https://t.co/o4TdRS5ZmC pic.twitter.com/6arECowDZC
— JIT MH17 (@JITMH17) June 19, 2019
On July 17 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER, 9M-MRD, operating a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members – including 38 Australian citizens or permanent residents – was shot down over eastern Ukraine. There were no survivors.
Amateur video footage showed the aircraft exploding on impact with the ground, and the charred remains of recognisable aircraft components strewn across a fairly wide semi-rural area.
A report from the Dutch Safety Board published in 2015 found the Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile that was launched in a 320 sq km area in eastern Ukraine.
In 2014, Australia sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution that expressed condemnation of the shooting down of the aircraft and set up an independent international investigation. It was unanimously backed by all 15 members of the Council, including Russia.
And in July 2017, it was announced the five countries jointly investigating the crash – Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands – had chosen the Dutch courts to prosecute those suspected to be responsible for the downing of the aircraft.
The move followed Russian efforts to block the establishment of an international court to bring those behind the shooting down of MH17 to justice.
The Dutch public prosecution service alleged Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin, 48, Sergey Nikolayevich Dubinskiy, 56, and Oleg Yuldashevich Pulatov, 52, from the Russian Federation, as well as Leonid Volodymyrovych Kharchenko, 47, “cooperated to obtain and deploy the BUK TELAR at the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft”.
VIDEO: A profile of the four men being charged from The Netherlands’ Politie YouTube channel.
The trial was due to start on March 9 2020 before the District Court of The Hague. It will be held at the Schiphol Judicial Complex.
“Although they did not press the button themselves, it is alleged they worked closely together to get the BUK TELAR to the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft,” Westerbeke said.
“They are therefore suspected to be held jointly responsible for shooting down flight MH17.
“In Dutch criminal law, persons who are not present during the execution of a crime but who play an important organising role are just as liable to punishment as the person who actually commits the crime.”
Further, Westerbeke said the JIT did take into account the armed conflict going on at the time the incident took place in its decision to prosecute the four suspects and when formulating the charges.
“It is possible the suspects wanted to shoot down a military aircraft instead of a passenger aircraft,” Westerbeke said.
“Even if that is the case, we still hold them accountable for downing MH17. What the suspects actually knew, wanted and ultimately did must be determined by the court in criminal proceedings.”
The men were unlikely to appear in a Dutch court given the constitutions of the Russian Federation and Ukraine did not allow extradition of nationals. Therefore there will be no extradition requested, the public prosecution service said.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne the move to prosecute the four men was a significant step towards justice and accountability for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.
“The Australian Government remains committed to holding the perpetrators to account,” Senator Payne said in a statement.
“We have allocated $50.3 million over four years to support the Dutch prosecution and ensure that Australian families have meaningful access to the proceedings, including through translation services.
“Australia thanks the Netherlands for conducting these prosecutions on behalf of the international community. Australia has full confidence in the integrity of the process.”
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the JIT statements as “utterly regrettable”.
“The Russian Federation once again finds itself the target of completely unfounded accusations intended to discredit it in the eyes of the international community,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
“The JIT continues to put forward not entirely reasonable arguments, some of which are based on dubious information sources. Meanwhile, the data submitted to the investigation by Russia continues to be willfully ignored.”
VIDEO: The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) press conference outline the charges against the four men, from The Netherlands’ Politie YouTube channel.