Dutch Prosecutor Names Four To Be Tried For Murder In Downing Of MH17
By RFE/RL June 19, 2019
Dutch prosecutors say three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian will be tried on murder charges for their alleged roles in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board.
In announcing the first criminal charges in the air disaster, members from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) told a news conference that evidence showed a direct line of military command between Ukrainian separatists and Russia.
To back up the claim, they played phone calls of the suspects discussing the incident by telephone, via social-media chats and a computer image reconstruction of events.
The suspects are to be tried starting in March 2020 in the Netherlands, the international investigators said.
Kyiv welcomed the announcement and urged Moscow to "acknowledge" its responsibility over the tragedy, while Russia alleged that the investigation was aimed at "discrediting" the country.
"Today, we will send out international arrest warrants for the four suspects that we will prosecute," Dutch chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.
"They will also be placed on national and international wanted lists. Because of that, we will reveal their full names and we will show you their pictures. The four persons are: Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Leonid Kharchenko," he added, noting that Kharchenko was Ukrainian, while the others held Russian citizenship.
The airliner flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was blasted out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
The JIT announced initially in 2016 that the sophisticated Buk missile system used in the attack came from Russia.
Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade had transported the Buk in 2014 to and from Ukraine, JIT additionally concluded in May 2018.
Moscow seized control of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and has supported the separatists who control parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a war that has killed some 13,000 people since April of that year.
The passenger flight was downed in the conflict zone over non-government-controlled territory.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the national investigative department of the Dutch police, said the investigation will continue, as there currently "isn't enough evidence to take the same steps" against any other officials or active soldiers.
"Today, we -- the JIT -- have taken an important step, but -- as we said -- our investigation will not end with the prosecution of those four people," he said.
"There were more people who played a role in the downing of MH17. Investigation also continues into the personnel running the air-defense missile system Buk and into the people who were an important link in the Russian Federation's decision-making process to provide military support to [separatists in] eastern Ukraine."
In a statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he "welcomes the conclusions" of the Joint Investigation Team and expressed hope that "those who are guilty of this brazen murder of innocent children, women, and men will be put in the dock."
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called on Russia to "acknowledge its responsibility for supplying arms" to the separatists and to "cooperate with the probe."
Russia denies involvement in the tragedy. It has blamed, among others, Ukraine and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for the disaster.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn't accept the JIT's findings because Russia wasn't "given the opportunity to take part in" the investigation, he said on June 19.
The Russian Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying that "absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community."
Westerbeke blamed Russia for being involved in the "crime in one way or another."
Since the crash, he added, Russia was "in a position to tell us what happened.... I'm sure they know what happened."
The JIT said it will ask Russia on June 19 to extradite the suspects who are currently on Russian soil.
"The criminal trial will take place even if the suspects choose not to appear in court," Westerbeke said.
One of the former leaders of the Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's east, Girkin (aka Strelkov), denied the JIT's claims.
"I do not give any comments. The only thing I can say is the rebels did not shoot down the Boeing," he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
The four suspects named were also on a list of people released on June 19 by the open-source investigative collective Bellingcat.
Bellingcat, which began gathering and analyzing open-source data about the downing in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, previously identified several individuals it claimed were involved in the attack, including Dubinsky.
A report it released on June 19 also identified the other three named by the JIT, as well as several others.
Last year, Bellingcat also identified another individual allegedly involved as Oleg Ivannikov, a Russian GRU officer known by the call sign "Orion" who operated covertly in the neighboring separatist-controlled region of Luhansk.
The JIT probe of the attack consists of investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.
With reporting by Interfax and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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