Dutch court sentences three to life in prison for 2014 downing of MH17 over Ukraine

  • As a result of the accident, 298 passengers and crew were killed
  • The court found that a Russian missile shot down the plane
  • The convicts are fugitives believed to be in Russia

AMSTERDAM, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Dutch courts have convicted two Russian men and a Ukrainian citizen in absentia of manslaughter in the 2014 downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing 298 passengers and crew, and sentenced them to life in prison. .

Ukraine welcomed the ruling, which will affect Kyiv’s other court cases against Russia, while Moscow called it a “scandal” and said it would not extradite its citizens.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, as fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces preceded this year’s conflict.

This sentence is a relief to the family members of the victims, more than 200 of them were personally present in court and wiped away tears during the reading of the sentence.

“Only the harshest punishment is appropriate in retaliation for what the suspect did, which caused so much suffering to the victims and so many surviving relatives,” said presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis.

The three convicts were Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, former Russian intelligence officials, and Leonid Kharchenko, the leader of the Ukrainian separatists.

It turned out that the three helped arrange the transfer of the Russian BUK military missile system to Ukraine that was used to bring down the plane, although they were not the ones who physically pulled the trigger.

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They are fugitives and are believed to be in Russia. A fourth former suspect, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted of all charges.

The 2014 crash left the wreckage and bodies of the victims scattered across fields of corn and sunflowers.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February and claims to have occupied the Donetsk region where the plane was shot down.

Piet Ploeg, president of the victims’ advocacy foundation, told Reuters: “The families of the victims wanted the truth and they wanted justice and those responsible to be punished and that’s what happened. I’m very satisfied.” Ploeg’s brother, his brother’s wife and his cousin died on MH17.

Meryn O’Brien from Australia, who lost her 25-year-old son Jack, said she was relieved. “Everyone is relieved that the process is over and that it was very fair and thorough.”

“There’s no celebration,” said Jordan Withers of Britain, whose uncle Glenn Thomas has died. “Nothing will bring back any of the victims.” They come from 10 different countries.

The verdict includes 16 million euros in damages.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the first verdict in the MH17 case as an “important decision” by the Hague tribunal.

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“But it is imperative that those who ordered it be brought to justice, because the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes,” he said on Twitter. “We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all Russian atrocities – then and now – will be inevitable.”

The decision states that since mid-May 2014, Russia has “overall control” over the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

“This is the foundation,” said Marieke de Hoon, an assistant professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam. The ruling was “authoritative” and is likely to increase Ukraine’s other international cases against Russia related to the 2014 conflict.

‘NO DOUBT’

Judge Steenhuis said there was ample evidence from witness testimony and photographs that tracked the movement of the missile system into Ukraine and back to Russia.

Steenhuis said there was “no reasonable doubt” that MH17 was downed by a Russian missile system.

Moscow denies any involvement and responsibility for the downing of the MH17 flight and denied its presence in Ukraine in 2014.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that “during the trial, the court came under unprecedented pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the media to achieve a politically motivated outcome.”

“We regret that the Hague District Court disregarded the principles of impartial justice in favor of the current political situation, thereby dealing a serious blow to the reputation of the entire judicial system of the Netherlands,” he added.

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Prosecutors charged four people with the plane crash and murder in a court held under Dutch law, as more than half of the victims were Dutch nationals. The phone calls, which formed a key piece of evidence, suggested the men believed they had targeted a Ukrainian warplane.

Steenhuis said that while this was seen as something to lessen the severity of their criminal liability, they still intended to kill and the consequences of their actions were too great.

Of the suspects, only Polotov was found innocent by the lawyers he hired to defend him. Others were tried in absentia and no one attended the trial.

The police investigation was led by the Netherlands, with participation from Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia and Belgium.

Dutch and Australian authorities said Thursday’s verdict was not the final word on whether people should be prosecuted for MH17.

Andy Kraag, chief of police investigations, said the investigation into possible suspects is continuing up the chain of command. Investigators are also looking into the crew of the missile system that fired the deadly missile.

The Dutch and Australian governments, which hold Russia responsible, have launched a case against the Russian Federation at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Reporting by Toby Sterling, Stephanie van den Berg and Bart Meier; Edited by John Boyle, Alex Richardson, Toby Chopra, Alexandra Hudson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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