In July 2014, alleged pro-Russian separatists shot down a civilian plane over Ukraine. Most of the 298 fatalities came from the Netherlands. Three Russians and one Ukrainian are now charged there.
Almost seven years after the shooting down of a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine with almost 300 fatalities, the main proceedings began in a criminal court in the Netherlands on Monday. The trial takes place in a specially secured court at Amsterdam Airport. Not a single one of the four defendants from Russia and Ukraine is personally present. The case of flight MH17 is politically explosive because Russia was involved in the shooting down, according to the prosecution. A judgment is not expected before the end of the year.
The presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis promised at the beginning that the court would present the extensive dossier neutrally and impartially. Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing was shot down on July 17, 2014 en route from Amsterdam to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur over contested territory in eastern Ukraine. None of the 298 inmates survived. Because most of the victims came from the Netherlands, the trial is also being held there.
MH17 shot down: “Scars keep breaking open”
It was another difficult day for the relatives of the victims, even after almost seven years. “We have waited a long time for this day,” said Robbert van Heijningen, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew in the disaster. “The great grief has been processed, but the scars keep breaking open.” The relatives have the floor in September. About 70 want to make use of their right to speak.
The public prosecutor is suing three Russians and one Ukrainian for 298 murders. The defendants are said to have had high positions with the pro-Russian rebels and were responsible for shooting down the machine with a Russian anti-aircraft missile of the Buk type. According to the prosecutors, the weapon was transported from a Russian military base to Ukraine.
Russian Buk missile reportedly hit Flight MH17
The court wants to present the extensive process dossier from this Tuesday on: more than 60,000 pages and a wealth of video and audio recordings as well as photos and telecommunications data. “In such a large process, it is simply impossible to mention every detail,” said Judge Steenhuis.
There are three main questions in the process: Was Flight MH17 actually shot down by a Buk missile? The public prosecutor’s office wants to present a wealth of evidence – including testimony and video recordings that should prove the transport of the rocket from Russia. Small parts of such a missile were also found in the pilot’s body.
Moscow rejects responsibility for MH17 downing
Then there is the question of where the missile was fired from. The prosecution assigns a field in eastern Ukraine. The defense doubts it. Finally, the court has to examine whether the four defendants played a role in the shooting down. The public prosecutor’s office does not assume that they pressed the button themselves. However, she is of the opinion that they awarded the contract.
The four defendants are said to be in Russia. It is considered impossible that they will be delivered. Only one is represented by a lawyer. Moscow denies any involvement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov criticized again on Monday that Russia had been excluded from international investigations.
In Russia, a version circulated for a long time, according to which the machine was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. There is no evidence of this. Shortly after the shooting down, President Vladimir Putin held Ukraine solely responsible.