Dutch prosecutors to demand sentences for MH17 suspects

By AFP

Dutch prosecutors will this week set out their sentencing demands for four men on trial in absentia over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in war-torn Ukraine in 2014.

Prosecutors will also formally present the indictment during three days of hearings from Monday, charging the men with the murders of all 298 people on the Boeing 777.

The four suspects — Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko — have all refused to attend the trial in the Netherlands.

A verdict at the high-security court, near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where MH17 took off on its doomed flight to Kuala Lumpur, is not expected until late 2022 at the earliest.

“The maximum penalty is life imprisonment,” a court spokesperson told AFP.

The hearings come as fresh tensions soar over Ukraine, with the West accusing Moscow of planning an invasion.

International investigators say MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile originally brought from a Russian military base as it flew over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Moscow separatists on July 17, 2014.

Bodies of victims, some of them still strapped into their seats, were strewn across sunflower fields along with the white, red and blue wreckage of the plane.

Girkin, 49, also known by his pseudonym “Strelkov”, is the most high-profile suspect — a former Russian spy and historical re-enactment fan who helped kickstart the war in Ukraine.

Dubinsky, 57, who has also been linked with Russian intelligence, allegedly served as the separatists’ military intelligence chief.

Pulatov, 53, was an ex-Russian special forces soldier and one of Dubinsky’s deputies.

Kharchenko, 48, allegedly led a separatist unit in eastern Ukraine.

– ‘Corrupt’ Russia –

Pulatov is the only suspect to be represented by lawyers. 

The court spokesperson said prosecutors would spend Monday and Tuesday explaining evidence including telephone and electronic eavesdropping, the circumstances surrounding the missile, and the defendants themselves.

The sentencing demand is expected to follow on Wednesday and will include an “extensive justification of the requested penalty”, the spokesperson said.

Prosecutors said during the opening of the trial in March 2020 that if the court passed a sentence “we will do everything in our power to ensure that it is enforced, whether in the Netherlands or elsewhere”.

The trial heard harrowing testimony from relatives earlier this year, who spoke of the heartbreak of the loss of children, parents and siblings, and called on “corrupt” Russia to provide justice.

Kiev has been battling a pro-Moscow insurgency in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Western nations imposed tough sanctions on Russia amid international outrage over the shooting down of flight MH17.

Russia has recently massed troops near Ukraine’s borders and the West has for weeks accused it of planning an invasion, warning Moscow of massive sanctions should it launch an attack. 

Moscow denies the claims, with President Vladimir Putin seeking talks with US counterpart Joe Biden and security guarantees to stand down his troops.