Credit cards from MH17 victims ‘moved inappropriately’

Debris spilled over dozens of square kilometres across fields, forests and villages


European monitors last night indicated for the first time that credit and debit cards belonging to people who died on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine had been moved inappropriately, though it was unclear whether anybody had tried to use them.

Debris from Flight 17 spilled over dozens of square kilometres , extending across sunflower fields, forests and villages. The huge site is almost wholly unguarded, though pro-Russian militants who control it have denied looting has been allowed.

The movement of credit cards was the latest sign of tampering with the wreckage in ways large and small. The United States and Ukraine say the airliner was shot down by a missile, likely supplied by Russia, from territory occupied by the same separatists who now control the debris field.

The monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe visits the debris site daily, though it has no control over it.

Yesterday, the group found cards and passports at two locations where they had not been seen before.

The cards and documents looked fresh, as if they had not been exposed to the elements for a week, for reasons that were entirely unclear to the monitors. “There’s nothing to explain how it landed there,” Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the organization, said of the strange discovery.

“But it was there.” Reports of looting have swirled for a week. Dutch officials say they are monitoring bank accounts of the dead passengers.

As recently as Thursday, Mr Bociurkiw said his agency had not seen any sign of looting. Malaysian investigators said they saw valuables in the fields untouched, including unopened backpacks, a watch and jewelry.

Monitors said July 22nd that they had seen uniformed men cutting into the cockpit section of the fuselage with a power tool. Since then, the cockpit has been further dismantled, Mr Bociurkiw said.

If the earlier work might have been justified by a search for bodies after the plane was shot down on July 17th, he said, it was unclear why metal-cutting tools were still being used. “The cockpit slammed into the ground and pancaked and now it’s opened up,” he said. “It was quite stunning.”

Monitors also said they saw body fragments elsewhere in the debris field Friday. Ukraine has ceded control of the inquiry into the downing of Flight 17 to the Netherlands, the nation with the largest number of citizens on board, and the Dutch government has pressed to secure the site or at least the safety of an investigative team still waiting in Kiev for safe access.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said his government intended to send 40 unarmed border police. The Australian government is also pressing to deploy police to protect the site.

Yesterday, the militia at the site apparently rejected this suggestion. Bociurkiw said the armed men controlling the area wanted no more than 35 investigators. The separatists also indicated that they intended to gather the debris and ship it out of the war zone by train, Mr Bociurkiw said during a nightly briefing in Donetsk, and that they could begin doing so within days.

He added that the militia leadership argued that the wreckage cannot be secured against looting as it was, scattered in and around villages. The separatists suggested sending the pieces to Kharkiv, a city in Ukrainian-controlled territory that also became the destination for a trainload of victims’ bodies, as a transfer site for onward shipment to the Netherlands.

New York Times