MH17: four suspects to be charged with murder

MH17: four suspects to be charged with murder

Five years after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has announced it will charge four men with murder over the deaths of all 298 people onboard, including 38 Australians.

The JIT — made up of investigators from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine — named Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

They will be prosecuted by Dutch authorities in March next year.

MH17 was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014, where pro-Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists are battling in a deadly civil war that has claimed the lives of over 10,000 people.

The plane was hit by what the JIT has identified as a BUK surface-to-air missile, and the investigators allege all four suspects are responsible for positioning the BUK-M1 missile launcher in a field in Pervomaisky Oblast’ where the projectile was fired.

Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the suspects are living in Ukraine and Russia, and will face international arrest warrants and be placed on international wanted lists.

However, both the Russian and Ukrainian constitutions prevent their citizens from being extradited.

Regardless of the constitutional restrictions, it is highly unlikely the Ukrainian Government could gain access to Mr Kharchenko to exradite him or that Russia would extradite Mr Girkin, Mr Dubinsky or Mr Pulatov, as Moscow denies any involvement in the incident.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the JIT’s “absolutely hollow claims”, while the former leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic — one of the separatist groups seeking independence from Ukraine — has called the investigation biased.

“Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

As extradition is all but impossible, Dutch National Police Chief Wilbert Paulissen said a request to extradite the suspects will not be made.

The suspects will instead be tried in absentia when the trial starts at The Hague on 9 March 2020.

Mr Westerbeke said investigators established Russia was connected to the tragedy because it provided the BUK missile system that was used to shoot down MH17.

“The Russian Federation has not disclosed anything that happened and that is a slap in the face for all the relatives of the victims, and I call out to them to start cooperating,” Mr Westerbeke said.

“We have proof that the Russian Federation is involved in this tragedy, in this crime, in one way or the other.

“One day after July 17 [2014], they could have been in a position to tell us exactly what happened, and they didn’t give us this information.

“I would not call this cooperation.”

Mr Westerbeke said the three Russians have military and intelligence backgrounds.

He said Mr Girkin, 48, is a former colonel in the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Mr Dubinskiy, 56, worked for the Russian Military Intelligence Service, and 52-year-old Mr Pulatov is a former Spetznaz operative.

Mr Kharchenko, 47, has no military background, according to Mr Westerbeke.

At this stage, the JIT has only identified those it believes are responsible for positioning the missile system and not those who fired the missile that brought down the airliner.

“We still think it is feasible that we will come up with more evidence and more suspects,” Mr Paulissen said.

In an interview with the ABC, Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Crozier vowed that authorities would not stop until those responsible face justice.

“We won’t stop,” Assistant Commissioner Crozier said.

“So just because we know that is a challenge for us doesn’t mean we’re not going to pursue justice on behalf of those victims, on behalf of those people close to them and their family members.

“We’ll do all we can to look and use every avenue that’s available to us, every opportunity that might become available to us to try and put those people before justice.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcomed the development in a statement, saying the “downing of MH17 was a despicable act and the Australian Government has not stopped in the pursuit of justice for the 298 victims, including 38 Australians.”

Watch the JIT’s full presentation below.

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