MH17 Air Crash Tragedy Trial in The Netherlands Entered Crucial Merits Phase but May Be Delayed

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MH17 Air Crash Tragedy Trial in The Netherlands Entered Crucial Merits Phase but May Be Delayed

A trial continues at the District Court of The Hague seven years after the downing of Malaysian civil flight MH17  from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17th, 2014 by members of the Russian military and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. The attack killing 283 passengers and 15 crew members was the second disaster for Malaysia Airlines in 2014, following the disappearance of flight 370 on March 8.

The Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine have been working together to conduct the international criminal investigation of the cause of the crash of MH17 flight and those thought to be responsible. The Dutch-led joint investigation team concluded that Boeing 770-200ER operating MH17 flight was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Donetsk Oblast. The investigation team also stated that it possessed “evidence showing that Russia provided the missile launcher” that shot down the airliner.

On the basis of the investigation, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service took the decision on June 19, 2019 to prosecute the suspects and filed charges against four men—three Russian and one Ukrainian citizens -- in connection with the downing of Flight MH17. All four were associated with the Russian-backed military operation in eastern Ukraine, and the three Russians had ties to Russian intelligence agencies, including the most prominent suspect Igor Girkin (AKA Strelkov) whom prosecutors identified as a former colonel with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) commanding the Russian-backed forces in Donetskand who abruptly returned to Russia within a month of the crash of MH17.

Since the start of the trial on March 9, 2020, the District Court of The Hague has held 8 blocks (27 weeks) of hearings, the last one during June 7-July 8, 2021 when the court listened to witnesses and the suspect defense.

The suspects have ignored the trial, except one, former Russian lieutenant colonel Oleg Pulatov who hired Dutch team of lawyers for his defense. According to popular belief, Pulatov’s lawyers are paid by the Russian government to gain access to the case file. The defense’s strategy is aimed at questioning the results of the Joint Team Investigation and extending court trial indefinitely.

The Pulatov’s defense stated it would not discuss the issue of whether their client is guilty instead emphasizing that investigation was incomplete, that even the downing of the plane by a Buk had not been proven, and therefore the investigation should be continued for at least eight more weeks before the defense formulates its legal position. The defense team suggested a number of other possible explanations of how the airliner could have been downed that have already been reviewed and rejected by the Dutch Prosecutor's office.

Interestingly, the defense team used some basic elements of the Russian propaganda about Ukraine, including that "Yanukovych’s removal from power was done by pro-Western nationalists that staged a violent conflict in Kyiv capturing 60 police officers”, which, according to the lawyers’ statements, should be investigated by The Hague Court too to ensure a just verdict.

The next block of hearing has been scheduled on September 6-24, 2021 during which the court may decide whether the arguments of the Russian Pulatov’s team deserve further consideration or should be rejected like already done by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service.

The recordings of court hearings of the case can be viewed here.