Photos of four suspects. (Photo/Agencies)
Four suspects are prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014, the international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) announced at a press conference in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands, on Wednesday.
"The goal of the JIT was to get the truth of what happened and to prosecute the people responsible," said Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. "Today, I can tell you this prosecution will actually happen. The four are suspected of bringing the deadly weapon to eastern Ukraine."
The JIT presented the names of four people: Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko and Oleg Pulatov, Igor Girkin (also known as Strelkov) and Sergey Dubinsky, who hold Russian citizenship. At the time of the downing of flight MH17 in 2014, Girkin was minister of defense of the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency GRU DNR, and Kharchenko and Pulatov led departments of the GRU DNR.
The criminal trial of the four suspects is due to begin at an extra secure location near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on March 9, 2020. The JIT will ask the Russian authorities to hand over the summons to the Russian suspects, who according to the JIT are now probably in Russia, and the JIT will do the same with the Ukrainian authorities regarding the Ukrainian suspect.
"For all suspects it applies that we will not ask for their extradition," Westerbeke said, explaining that both Russia and Ukraine have laws prohibiting the extradition of their citizens. "We are open to a direct reaction by the suspects," he said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, after it was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from a region in eastern Ukraine, the JIT concluded earlier. On board were 283 passengers and 15 crew members. All of them died. Among the passengers were 196 Dutch nationals.
The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014. In the JIT, the Dutch Public Prosecutor's Office and the Dutch national police work together with the police and judicial authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. The purpose of the criminal investigation, led by the Dutch prosecutor, has been to establish the facts, identify those responsible for the crash and collect evidence that can be used in court.
"All countries in the JIT agreed that Dutch law and a Dutch judge would be the best choice in this case," Westerbeke said. "We call on the suspects to come to the court room on March 9 next year. Whether they are present in court or not, the trial will go on. I am realistic that chances are not high that the suspects will show up in court."
The JIT suspects the four of having played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians, Westerbeke said. "What the role of the suspects was exactly will be determined in court ... and it is up to the court to issue a verdict."
Russia has always rejected the JIT's findings, calling them "biased and politically motivated".