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Dutch Prosecutors Seek Life Sentences For MH17 Suspects

By RFE/RL December 22, 2021

Dutch prosecutors have requested life sentences for three Russians and a Ukrainian on trial in absentia on charges of playing a role in downing a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.

In their final summations on December 22, prosecutors said the defendants helped supply a missile system that Moscow-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down on July 17, 2014, by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by the separatists in the east of Ukraine, killing all passengers and crew.

The trial comes amid heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has drawn fears of an invasion. Russia, which in 2014 seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, has denied plans to attack its neighbor.

The four suspects -- Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko -- are being tried in absentia. Only one of the suspects, Pulatov, is represented by lawyers at the trial.

The trial is being held in a secure courtroom near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport because the departure point for the doomed plane was in the Netherlands, while 196 of the victims were Dutch.

"We demand that suspects Girkin, Dubinsky, Pulatov, and Kharchenko are convicted, each individually for the joint shooting down of an aircraft which caused death and the murder of 298 people on board, to life in prison," public prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks said.

"Incredibly deep and irreversible suffering has been caused to the next of kin," Ridderbeks told the court.

The four have all have denied involvement either in video messages or in media interviews shown in court.

The sentence guidance was announced at the end of a three-day presentation of evidence.

Prosecutors said on December 22 that the evidence showed the four accused were linked to Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and played different but significant roles in the conflict with Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.

A team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the missile launcher used to shoot down the aircraft belonged to Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

In their closing arguments on December 20, prosecutors said evidence such as photos, intercepted telephone conversations, videos, and witness statements showed that the accused worked together to procure the Buk missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine to reinforce the separatists.

In recordings played to the court during the three days of hearings, men identified by the prosecution as the suspects could be heard talking about moving "our Buk" to a field from where flight MH17 was attacked.

The four celebrated the success of "our boys" when they brought down what they mistakenly thought was a Ukrainian military plane.

Prosecutors argued that their intention to shoot down a military plane made no legal difference.

"Even if the suspects did not intend the consequences of their actions those consequences still count for their sentencing," Ridderbeks said.

Defense lawyers for Pulatov are expected to make their presentation to judges in March. Verdicts in the trial that started 20 months ago aren't expected until September at the earliest.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/netherlands-mh17- russia-ukraine/31621238.html

Copyright (c) 2021. 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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