The family of the only American aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 has used US anti-terror law to start an unusual legal action which could be followed by other relatives who doubt that pro-Moscow separatists will ever face justice for the 298 deaths over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Quinn Schansman (18) held dual US-Dutch citizenship. His father, Thomas Schansman, moved to America with the Dutch Foreign Investment Agency, which promoted overseas investment in the Netherlands. Former US president Barack Obama announced Quinn's death within hours of the disaster.
On April 4th, the Schansman family began lawsuits in the US federal court against two Russian banks and four US money transfer companies it claims provided financial services that enabled the separatists to fund their insurgency, seize Ukrainian territory, and allegedly shoot down the jet.
It is seeking unspecified damages from Russian's state-owned Sberbank and VTB Bank, which have offices in the US, as well as from the American money transfer companies, Western Union Co, Western Union Financial Services, MoneyGram International, and MoneyGram Payment System.
The 63-page action is based on a 1992 anti-terror law that allows US victims of terrorism to sue anyone proving material support for those who carry out attacks.
"Given the geopolitical reality, the men who launched the missile may never answer for their crimes, but all those with a role in arming and supporting them must be called to account," said the Schansmans' lawyer, David Pressman, a former deputy US ambassador to the UN.
“In a volatile world, it is wrong that some businesses appear to believe they can allow greed to reign supreme and provide a reliable means for terrorists to raise money from supporters across the globe – in this case the Russian diaspora – day in and day out.”
Of the 298 passengers and crew who died when a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile hit the plane over the disputed Donbass region, 193 were Dutch.
There is an expectation now that other families, angry at what they see as the slow pursuit of the separatists, may follow the Schansmans’ lead and look at Dutch anti-terror law to see if it offers the same possible redress.
“We realise that we will never get our son back, and many others are in the same situation”, said Thomas Schansman. “But we are committed to shedding light not just on what happened but on everyone who participated in allowing it to happen.”
Russia – which took part in talks with the Netherlands and Australia last month – has consistently denied playing any part in the downing of the Boeing 777 passenger jet which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Instead it blamed the Ukrainian military.