Three men guilty of murdering 298 people on MH17 flight with Russian-made missile

Three men convicted at a Dutch court

Matt Mathers
Thursday 17 November 2022 18:03 GMT
Three men found guilty of murdering 298 people on Malaysian Airlines flight 17

Three men have been convicted of killing 298 passengers and crew onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was brought down by a Russian made-missile while flying over Ukraine in 2014.

Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader, were convicted on Thursday and sentenced to life in prison. A fourth man, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted because of a lack of evidence.

Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis said that evidence presented by prosecutors at the trial proved the Boeing 777 – flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur – was brought down by a Buk missile fired by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels on 17 July 2014.

None of the defendants appeared for the trial that began in March 2020 and it is deemed unlikely that the men will serve a prison sentence any time soon. They have two weeks to file an appeal.

Emergency workers carry a body away from the crash scene (Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The plane was one of 160 flights that crossed the airspace of eastern Ukraine that day. MH17 crashed near the Ukrainian village of Hrabove.

An exclusion zone prevailed at 32,000 feet because of the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels.

Five countries – the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine – formed the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) into the tragedy.

On 24 May 2018, the JIT announced that the Buk missile installation that brought down the flight belonged to the Russian army.

The missile, which can reach a height of 80,000 feet, was fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine – at a target that may mistakenly have been assumed to be a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Judge Steenhuis opened Thursday’s hearing and said “the court takes the view that the MH17 was brought down by a Buk missile” launched from an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine.

“The truth on the table – that is the most important thing,” said Anton Kotte, who lost his son, daughter-in-law and six-year-old grandson when MH17 was shot down. He said the hearing was a “D-Day” for relatives.

Robbert van Heijningen, whose brother, sister-in-law and nephew were killed, called the downing “an act of barbarism” that he could never put behind him, regardless of the verdict. “I call it a stone in my heart, and stones... don’t disappear,” he said.

The Hague District Court sat in a high-security courtroom at Schiphol airport outside Amsterdam.

Hundreds of family members of people killed had travelled to the court to hear the verdict, bringing them back to the airport their loved ones left on the fateful day MH17 was shot down.

Dutch prosecutors said the missile launcher came from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces based in the Russian city of Kursk and was driven back there after MH17 was shot down.

People look through plane ruins (AP)

The most senior defendant convicted was Girkin, a 51-year-old former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB.

At the time of the downing, he was defence minister and commander of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – the region where the plane was shot down. Girkin is reportedly involved in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Also convicted were Girkin’s subordinates, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko, who prosecutors say was commander of a pro-Russia rebel combat unit who took orders directly from Dubinskiy.

Mr Pulatov was acquitted and defence lawyers accused prosecutors of “tunnel vision” in basing their case on the findings of an international investigation into the downing while ignoring other possible causes.

In a video recording played in court, Mr Pulatov insisted he was innocent and told judges: “What matters to me is that the truth is revealed. It’s important for me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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