- The crash killed 298 passengers and crew
- Court finds that Russia shot down the plane
- The accused were fugitives, believed to be in Russia
AMSTERDAM, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Dutch judges convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian of murder for their role in the shooting down of Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 and the death of 298 passengers and crew, sentenced to life imprisonment. .
Ukraine welcomed the ruling, which has implications for other court cases Kyiv has filed against Russia, which Moscow called the ruling “harmful” and said it would not extradite its citizens.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 had taken off from Amsterdam and was en route to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, amid intense fighting between separatists. pro-Russian and Ukrainian troops, the beginning of this year’s war.
The decision came as a relief to the families of the victims, more than 200 of whom attended the court in person, wiping away tears as the judgment was announced.
“Only the most severe sentence is appropriate to pay for the actions of the accused, which caused so much pain to so many victims and so many surviving relatives,” said President Judge Hendrik Steenhuis.
The three men convicted were former Russian intelligence officials Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Ukrainian separatist leader Leonid Kharchenko.
The three were all found to have helped arrange the delivery to Ukraine of the Russian military BUK missile system used to shoot down the plane, although they were not the ones who pulled the trigger.
They are refugees and are believed to be in Russia. The fourth former, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was cleared of all charges.
The accident in 2014 left the wreckage of the plane scattered and the remains of the victims scattered across fields of wheat and sunflowers.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February and said it had annexed the Donetsk region where the plane was shot down.
“The families of the victims wanted the truth and wanted justice to be done and those responsible to be punished, and that’s what happened. I was very satisfied,” said Piet Ploeg, the head of the foundation for the victim, told Reuters. Ploeg’s brother, his brother’s wife and his niece died on MH17.
Australian Meryn O’Brien, whose 25-year-old son Jack died, said she was relieved. “Everyone was relieved that the job was over, and it was really, really done.”
“There’s no celebration,” said Jordan Withers of Britain, whose uncle Glenn Thomas died. “Nothing will bring back any of the victims.” They come from 10 different countries.
In the judgment is 16 million euros damages.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the initial sanctions handed down over MH17 as “an important decision” by the court in The Hague.
“But what is necessary is that those who ordered it should stop at the port because the impunity leads to new crimes,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all Russian atrocities – then and now – will be impossible.”
The decision found that Russia had “full control” over the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Eastern Ukraine since mid-May 2014.
“This is groundbreaking,” said Marieke de Hoon, assistant professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam. The decision is “authoritative” and may increase Ukraine’s international cases against Russia related to the 2014 war.
‘NO REASONABLE WAVE’
Judge Steenhuis said there was ample evidence from eyewitness testimony and photographs tracking the movement of the missile system into and out of Ukraine and Russia.
“There is no reasonable doubt” that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile system, Steenhuis said.
Moscow denies involvement or responsibility for the downing of MH17, and in 2014 it denied involvement in Ukraine.
In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said that “throughout the trial the court was under unreasonable pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the media to decide on a political outcome”.
“We are deeply saddened by the fact that the District Court in The Hague lacked the principles of impartial justice in light of the current political situation, thereby damaging the reputation of the entire justice system in in the Netherlands,” he added.
Prosecutors charged four people with shooting down the plane and murder in a trial under Dutch law, as more than half of the victims were Dutch. The wiretapping intercepts formed a large part of the evidence that people said believed they were tracking a Ukrainian warplane.
Steenhuis said that while that is important in reducing the burden of their criminal responsibility, they are still committed to murder and the consequences of their actions are high.
Of the accused, only Pulatov pleaded not guilty through the lawyers he hired to represent him. The others were tried in absentia and none attended the hearing.
The police investigation was led by the Netherlands, with participation from Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia and Belgium.
Thursday’s decision is not the final word on the detention of people on MH17, Dutch and Australian authorities said.
Andy Kraag, the chief of police investigations, said the investigation into the allegations is continuing up the chain of command. Investigators are also looking into the crew of the missile system that launched the deadly rocket.
The Dutch and Australian governments, which Russia is responsible for, have begun working with the Russian Federation at 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 Standards: Thomson Reuters’ Guardian Principles.