A Dutch court today cleared one suspect and convicted three others in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Two former Russian intelligence officers – Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy – as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who was working for Russia, were found guilty of murdering the 289 people onboard the Boeing 777 in 2014.
A third former Russian intelligence officer, Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted by the Dutch court due to a lack of evidence.
The Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 289 passengers and crew members.
The mid-air explosion and crash happened amid a conflict between pro-Russian separatist and Ukrainian forces.
Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said that evidence presented by prosecutors at a trial that lasted more than two years proved that plane was brought down by a Russian-made missile fired by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels.
The crash scattered wreckage and bodies over farmland and fields of sunflowers.
None of the defendants appeared for the trial that began in March 2020 and if they are convicted, it’s unlikely they will serve any sentence anytime soon. Prosecutors had sought life sentences for all four.
Prosecutors and the suspects have two weeks to file an appeal.
Two former Russian intelligence officers – Igor Girkin (top left) and Sergey Dubinskiy (top right) – as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko (bottom right), who was working for Putin, were found guilty of murdering the 289 people onboard the Boeing 777. A third former Russian intelligence officer, Oleg Pulatov (bottom left), was acquitted by the Dutch court
Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, his sister-in-law and his nephew in the downing of MH17, spokes person for the relatives of the victims smiles (centre right wearing green tie) before the verdict session of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 trial at the high security court at Schiphol airport, near Amsterdam, Netherlands on Thursday
Lawyers attend the judges’ inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage, as part of the murder trial ahead of the beginning of a critical stage, in Reijen, Netherlands, in May 2021
People inspect the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Russian-controlled Donetsk region of Ukraine in July 2014
Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis (left) opened Thursday’s hearing and said the court’s view is that the MH17 was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile launched from an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine
The courtroom was packed with relatives of the 298 victims of the aviation disaster, and ahead of the hearing, tension was high among those who had lost their loved ones.
‘The truth on the table – that is the most important thing,’ said Anton Kotte, who lost his son, daughter-in-law and his 6-year-old grandson when the MH17 was shot down. He said the hearing was a ‘D-Day’ for relatives.
Robbert van Heijningen, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, 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.
Ten Britons – including Liam Sweeney, 28, Richard Mayne, 20, Glenn Thomas, 49, John Alder, 63, and 20-year-old Ben Pocock – were killed when the MH17 was shot down by the Russian-made missile.
Britons Robert Ayley, 28, Andrew Hoare, 59, Stephen Anderson, 44, John Allen, and Cameron Dalziel, 43, were also killed.
The UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement: ‘Today’s guilty verdicts, convicting three individuals of murder in relation to the downing of MH17, are an important step in securing justice for the families of the victims.
‘298 lives, including those of ten British nationals, were tragically lost on 17 July 2014. Thousands more have been devastated in the years since, as family and friends continue to grieve for their loved ones.
‘The downing of MH17 was a shocking violation of international norms which keep our societies safe. It serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of Russia’s actions in Ukraine over many years.
‘My thoughts remain with the families of all those killed in this heinous attack, including people from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, New Zealand and Canada.’
Briton John Alder, 63, was one of those who tragically lost their lives aboard MH17
20-year-old Ben Pocock, a former Wellsway School pupil who was studying at Loughborough University, was on board Flight MH17
Glenn Thomas, a WHO’s spokesperson, who died when heading to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne
Pictured: Robert Ayley with his wife Sharlene. Robert died on board flight MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur
During the trial, prosecutors had said the four suspects had helped arrange and transport a Russian army BUK missile system into Ukraine that was used to shoot down the plane.
Phone call intercepts that formed a key part of the evidence against the men suggested they believed they were targeting a Ukrainian fighter jet.
Girkin, a 51-year-old former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, who was found guilty for the downing of the plane, was the most senior defendants.
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 reportedly is currently involved in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
His subordinates Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian who prosecutors say was commander of a pro-Russia rebel combat unit and took orders directly from Dubinskiy, were also found guilty.
Russian Oleg Pulatov was acquitted for murder due to a lack of evidence.
A senior Ukrainian official saidt he Dutch court ruling sends a strong signal that ‘every war crime committed by the Russians’ will be investigated and ‘brought to a conclusion
‘It can be said that this is the strongest signal to the whole world, including Russia itself, that every war crime committed by the Russians will be documented, investigated and brought to a conclusion. No matter how much time it takes,’ Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.
The Hague District Court, sitting at a high-security courtroom at Schiphol Airport, passed judgement against a backdrop of global geopolitical upheaval caused by Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February and the nearly nine-month war it triggered.
Investigators work at a the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), some 80km east of Donetsk, on July 25, 2014
Australian and Dutch investigators examine a piece of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane, near the village of Hrabove, Russian-controlled Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on August 1, 2014
Hundreds of family members of people killed 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. Outside the court, planes could be heard taking off and landing nearby on a cold, grey day.
Dutch prosecutors say 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.
The suspects were not accused of firing the missile but of working together to get it to the field where it was fired. They are accused of bringing down the plane and the murder of all those on board.
Pulatov, who was found not guilty, was the only suspect who was represented by defence lawyers at the trial. They accused prosecutors of ‘tunnel vision’ in basing their case on the findings of an international investigation into the downing while ignoring other possible causes.
Pulatov’s defense team also sought to discredit evidence and argued he didn’t get a fair trial.
In a video recording played in court, 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.’
Moscow denies any involvement or responsibility for MH17’s downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine. In a briefing in Moscow on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ivan Nechaev told reporters the government would examine the court’s findings.