Dutch court to try suspects in downing of MH17 airliner over Ukraine

Moscow rejects findings that Russian missile was fired from militia-held area

Flowers, left by parents of an Australian victim of the crash, laid on a piece of the Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 near the village of Hrabove  in the Donetsk region in July 2014. Photograph: Bulent Kilicbulent/  AFP/Getty Images

Flowers, left by parents of an Australian victim of the crash, laid on a piece of the Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 near the village of Hrabove in the Donetsk region in July 2014. Photograph: Bulent Kilicbulent/ AFP/Getty Images

 

A Dutch court will try those suspected of involvement in shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over separatist-held eastern Ukraine almost three years ago, the Netherlands announced on Wednesday.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko welcomed the decision and pledged his country’s full support for the Dutch prosecution, which came about after Russia vetoed efforts to create an international tribunal through the United Nations.

The Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky close to Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia on July 17th 2014, over territory that had been seized and is still controlled by heavily armed Kremlin-backed militia.

All 298 people on board were killed as they and debris from the plane were scattered across several kilometres of fields and villages. The victims came from 17 countries but most - 196 people - were citizens of the Netherlands.

The Dutch safety board found in 2015 that the airliner was brought down by a Russian-made surface-to-air Buk missile, and last year a joint investigation team (JIT) comprising experts from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine concluded that the rocket was fired from separatist-held territory.

Russia disputes those findings and accuses the JIT of ignoring evidence in their determination to blame Moscow for the tragedy.

“The JIT countries have now decided that the suspects should be prosecuted in the Netherlands, a process that will be rooted in ongoing international co-operation and support,” said Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders.

“We’re still seeing a great deal of disinformation and attempts to discredit the investigation. Nevertheless, major results have been achieved,” he added, in reference to the reports by the Dutch safety board and JIT.

“What’s more, the ongoing criminal investigation enjoys virtually unanimous support from the international community. MH17 has shown how a shared tragedy can lead to close international co-operation and a determination to see that justice is done.”

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the decision to hold a trial in the Netherlands was the “next step on the way to uncover the truth, the prosecution of suspects and satisfaction for the bereaved. That remains the highest priority for the Dutch government.”

In the hours and days after the disaster, Russian media broadcast bizarre conspiracy theories about MH17, including speculation that Ukraine had targeted the airliner thinking it was Vladimir Putin’s presidential jet; that it was a spy plane; and that it was filled with dead bodies and crashed intentionally to discredit Russia and its separatist proxies.

The Russian defence ministry released what it claimed was satellite imagery showing a Ukrainian fighter jet firing a missile at the airliner - but this was quickly debunked as a crude fake and Moscow dropped that line of argument.

On the other hand, the Bellingcat investigative team has used images posted on social media and geolocation tools to track in detail the Buk’s alleged journey from Russia to eastern Ukraine and back again. They have also identified the Russian soldiers who they believe brought the missile system into Ukraine.

No suspects have yet been named officially in the case.