Dutch prosecutors demand life sentences in MH17 downing

The trial is being held in the Netherlands because nearly 200 of those on board were Dutch citizens.

MH17 - reuters
In this image from November 2014, local workers transport a piece of wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 at the site of the plane crash near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine [Antonio Bronic/Reuters]

Dutch prosecutors have demanded life sentences for four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday the four recklessly used a Russian missile to bring down the passenger jet, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

Public prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks made the sentence demand at the end of a three-day presentation of evidence. The suspects are being tried in absentia.

“The downing of MH17 with a Buk missile brutally ended the lives of all 298 people on board. Incredibly deep and irreversible suffering has been caused to the next of kin,” Ridderbeks told the court.

Prosecutors accuse Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Igor Pulatov, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who were separatist rebels fighting Ukrainian government forces in 2014, of forming a team that aimed to bring down Ukrainian planes using a missile system trucked in from a Russian military base.

Prosecutor Thijs Berger told judges earlier on Wednesday that it is legally irrelevant that the suspects wanted to shoot down military and not civilian aircraft.

“Legally speaking, they were ordinary citizens, they were not allowed to commit any violence,” he said.

The trial is being held in the Netherlands at a high-security courtroom near Schiphol Airport because nearly 200 of those on board were Dutch citizens.

Wednesday’s sentence demands came amid soaring tensions between Moscow and the West over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has drawn fears of an invasion. Russia has denied plans to attack its neighbour.

Defence lawyers for Pulatov, who is the only suspect who is represented in court, will make their presentation to judges in March. Verdicts are not expected until September next year at the earliest.

Prosecutors had spent the previous two days explaining in meticulous detail the indictment and evidence backing it up to the panel of judges.

Prosecutors plotted in detail the route they say the Buk missile took to and from the launch site in an agricultural field near the village of Pervomaiskyi, using witnesses, social media posts, photos and video and intercepted phone calls and mobile phone location data.

They also discussed the forensic evidence gathered from the wreckage and bodies of victims that were recovered from eastern Ukraine and returned to the Netherlands for examination. Earlier in the trial, judges visited a hangar on a Dutch military airbase where the wreckage is stored to view the mangled wreckage fragments.

The prosecutors concluded that the plane was shot down by a Buk missile belonging to the Russian 53rd Anti Aircraft Missile Brigade that was driven to the launch location “by orders of and under guidance of the suspects”.

The prosecutors also cited tapped conversations between Dubinski and Kharchenko discussing shooting down what they initially thought was a Ukrainian warplane.

Prosecutors argue that Girkin and Dubinsky were senior separatist rebels while Pulatov and Kharchenko were their direct subordinates.

“Together they are responsible for the deployment of the Buk telar used to shoot down flight MH17,” prosecutors said in a written summary of their arguments.

Source: AP