Fugitives face life for MH17 mass murder – myGC.com.au

Fugitives face life for MH17 mass murder – myGC.com.au

Updated: 15 days, 3 hours, 5 minutes, 11 seconds ago

A Dutch court convicted three men of murder for their role in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine, and sentenced them to life in prison in absentia.

A fourth man was acquitted.

MH17 was a passenger flight that was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.

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“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, reading a summary of the ruling.

Families of victims stood weeping and wiping away tears in the courtroom as Steenhuis read the verdict.

The three men convicted 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 to arrange the transport into Ukraine of the Russian military BUK missile system that was used to shoot down the plane, though they were not the ones that physically pulled the trigger.

They are fugitives and believed to be in Russia. Top Russian politician Andrei Klishas has told Tass news agency that Moscow would not be extraditing Girkin and Dubinskiy.

A fourth former suspect, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted on all charges.

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The incident in 2014 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.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February and claims to have annexed the Donetsk province where the plane was shot down.

“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 victims, told Reuters. Ploeg’s brother, his brother’s wife and his nephew died on MH17.

The judgment included a 16 million euro ($A25 million) damages award to victims that will be paid by the Dutch state if it is not paid by the convicted men.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the first sentences handed down over MH17 as an “important decision” by the court in The Hague.

“But it is necessary that those who ordered it also end up in the dock because the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes,” he wrote on Twitter. “We have to dispel this illusion. Punishment for all Russian atrocities – both then and now – will be inevitable.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said the court had been under unprecedented pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the media to impose a politically motivated outcome.

“The trial in the Netherlands has every chance of becoming one of the most scandalous in the history of legal proceedings,” it said in a statement.

Moscow has repeatedly denied responsibility for the downing of the jet. In 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine.

“There is no reasonable doubt” that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile system, Steenhuis said in his findings.

Eyewitness testimony and photographs introduced into evidence tracked the missile systems’ movements in and back out of Ukraine to Russia.

Phone call intercepts that formed a key part of the evidence against the men suggested they believed they were targeting a Ukrainian fighter jet.

Steenhuis said that, while that counted for something in terms of lessening the severity of their criminal responsibility, they had still had a murderous intent and the consequences of their actions were huge.

Of the suspects, only Pulatov had pleaded not guilty via lawyers he hired to represent him. The others were tried in absentia and none attended the trial.

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