- The accident killed 298 passengers and crew
- The court found that the plane was hit by a Russian missile
- The convicted men are fugitives, believed to be in Russia
AMSTERDAM, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Dutch judges convicted two Russian men and a Ukrainian man of murder in absentia for their role in the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 and the deaths of passengers and crew. 298 ships, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. .
Ukraine welcomed the decision, which will have implications for Kyiv’s other court cases against Russia, while Moscow called the decision “reprehensible” and said it would not deport its citizens.
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, amid fighting between pro-Russian forces and Ukrainian forces, led to this year’s fight.
The verdict came as a relief to the victims’ families, more than 200 of whom attended the court in person, wiping away tears as the verdict was read.
“Only the most severe punishment is appropriate to avenge the actions of the suspects, which caused so much suffering and so many relatives to survive,” said Chief Justice Hendrik Steenhuis.
The three men convicted are former Russian intelligence officers Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader.
The three men were found to have helped organize the importation of the Russian BUK missile used to bring down the plane, although they were not the ones who brought the plane.
They are refugees and believed to be in Russia. A fourth suspect, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted of all charges.
The 2014 incident left the wreckage of the plane and victims scattered among fields of corn and sunflowers.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February and claims to have captured the Donetsk region where the plane was shot down.
“The families of the victims want the truth and they want justice to be done and those responsible to be punished and that is what happened. I am satisfied,” Piet Ploeg, head of the foundation and – representing the victims, told Reuters. Ploeg’s brother, sister-in-law and nephew died on MH17.
Meryn O’Brien from Australia, whose name is Jack, is 25 years old. “Everybody is relieved that the process has come to an end, and it’s very, very good.”
“There was no celebration,” said Jordan Withers of Britain, whose uncle Glenn Thomas died. “There is nothing that will make any of the victims go back.” They are from 10 different countries.
The verdict included a damage award of 16 million euros.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the first sentence handed down on MH17 as an “important decision” by the court in The Hague.
“But it is important that those who ordered it should also go to jail because the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all Russian crimes – both then and now – will be inevitable.”
The resolution found that Russia had “full control” over the Donetsk People’s Republic forces in Eastern Ukraine since mid-May 2014.
“This is heartbreaking,” said Marieke de Hoon, an assistant professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam. This decision is “authoritative” and will likely promote other international cases of Ukraine against Russia regarding the 2014 conflict.
‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’
Judge Steenhuis said there was a lot of evidence from eyewitness testimony and photographs tracking the movement of weapons to Ukraine and Russia.
“There is no reasonable doubt” that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile, Steenhuis said.
Moscow denies any involvement or responsibility for the downing of MH17 and in 2014 it denied any presence in Ukraine.
In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that “during this trial, the court is under unprecedented pressure from Dutch politicians, lawyers and the media to deliver political results government”.
“We deeply regret that the District Court in The Hague ignored the principles of impartial justice in favor of the current political situation, thus causing a bad reputation and the entire judicial system in the Netherlands,” he added.
Prosecutors accused the four men of shooting down the plane and murder in a trial conducted under Dutch law, because more than half of the victims were Dutch. The phone call transcripts that formed a key part of the evidence show that the men believed they were looking for Ukrainian warplanes.
Steenhuis said that, although that counted for something in terms of reducing the seriousness of their criminal activity, they still had the intent to kill and the consequences of their actions were great.
Of the suspects, only Pulatov said he was not convicted by the lawyers he hired to represent him. Others were tried in absentia and no one attended the trial.
The Netherlands is leading the police investigation, with involvement in Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia and Belgium.
Thursday’s decision is not the final word on arresting people for MH17, Dutch and Australian authorities said.
Andy Kraag, the chief of police investigations, said that the investigation is continuing into the suspects who are high on the law. Investigators are also looking into whether the crew carried the deadly rocket.
The Dutch and Australian governments, which are the Russian hostages, have started proceedings against the Russian Federation and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Commentary by Toby Sterling, Stephanie van den Berg and Bart Meijer; Editing by Jon Boyle, Alex Richardson, Toby Chopra, Alexandra Hudson
Our principles: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.