A Dutch court has convicted three men of murder for their role in shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 and sentenced them to life in prison. A fourth man was acquitted.
“Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives,” presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said on Thursday.
MH17, a passenger flight, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
Families of the victims wept in the courtroom as Steenhuis read the verdict.
The three men convicted in absentia were former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader.
The three were all found to have helped arrange the transport of a Russian military BUK missile system into Ukraine that was used to shoot down the plane although they were not the ones who actually fired the missile.
They are fugitives and believed to be in Russia. Extradition is considered unlikely.
A fourth suspect, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted on all charges.
The missile left the plane’s wreckage and victims’ remains scattered across cornfields. The area at the time was the scene of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of this year’s conflict.
“The families of victims wanted the truth and they wanted justice to be done and those responsible to be punished, and that is what happened. I am pretty satisfied,” Piet Ploeg, who heads a foundation representing the victims, told the Reuters news agency. Ploeg’s brother, his brother’s wife and his nephew died on MH17.
The judgement included a 16-million-euro ($16.5m) award for damages to victims that will be paid by the Dutch state if it is not paid by the convicted men.