MH17 investigators name four suspects to face murder charges | News | DW | 19.06.2019
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MH17 investigators name four suspects to face murder charges

Three Russians and one Ukrainian national were named as first suspects in the 2014 downing of an airliner above Ukraine. A former "defense minister" of the so-called Donetsk Republic, Igor Girkin, is among the suspects.

Watch video 01:56

Investigators: MH17 downed by Russian missile

A Dutch-led team released the names of four top suspects for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane above Ukraine in 2014. 

The suspects were identified as:  

  • Igor Girkin/Strelkov, a Russian national and formerly a colonel in the Russian FSB agency, who later served as "defense minister" for the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic.
  • Sergey Dubinsky, an officer with the rebels' military intelligence service.
  • Oleg Pulatov, former Russian military officer and Dubinsky subordinate.
  • Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian national who commanded a separatist unit at the time of the incident.

Trial to start next year

"This is the start of the Dutch criminal proceedings," Wilbert Paulissen, chief constable of the Netherlands National Police and representative of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said on Wednesday.

The men will face murder charges at a trial in the Netherlands in March 2020. Officials also said they would issue international arrest warrants for the suspects.

The investigators said it was possible that the four suspects did not know they were targeting a passenger plane.

"Even if that was the original plan, we still hold them responsible for the downing of MH17," they said.

BUK systems from Kursk

The MH17 flight was destroyed while flying over territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine over five years ago. All 298 people on board were killed. Most of the victims were Dutch nationals.

With the armed conflict in Ukraine in full swing, the rebels and pro-Russian forces traded blame for the incident.

After a meticulous investigation, an international team of investigators last year announced the plane was shot down by a Russian BUK military missile.

The missile system, according to the findings, was moved into Ukraine from Russia's Kursk. All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile belonged to the Russian armed forces.

The investigators provided photographic evidence that the Russian military moved the missile systems across the Ukrainian border.

Watch video 06:01

The Netherlands: Flight MH 17

Russia slams accusations

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it had been willing to aid the investigation from the very beginning but it was shut out of the probe.  

"Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

Rebels deny BUK delivery

Igor Strelkov promptly denied the charges.

"I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing," he told the Russian news agency Interfax.

Other senior rebel representatives, such as ex-head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic (DNR) Alexander Borodai, also decried the investigation as "biased" and "completely disconnected from reality."

"We did not have BUK system in the DNR back then, and, as much as I know, we don't have them now either," Borodai said. "It was also impossible to deliver BUK from Russia also on technical reasons, taking the position of frontlines into account."

The Netherlands and Australia said they would hold Russia legally responsible for downing the plane.

Malaysian prime minister questions JIT findings

Last month, however, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad cast doubt on the findings, saying that he did not believe the Russian military fired the missile. He said that, while the investigation showed the missile was made by Russia, it could be have been fired by Ukrainian troops.

"I don’t think a very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile," he said. "They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence?"

The Netherlands has said Russia was not expected to surrender any suspects, likely prompting a trial in absentia.

Watch video 04:16

@dwnews - How Bellingcat investigated the MH17 plane crash

Bellingcat reasearch group, which specializes in analyzing publicly available information, also named several militants, including the four suspects named by JIT, claiming that the militants are  "linked to the downing of MH17" on Wednesday. The separatists apparently misidentified the civilian airliner as a military target. The research group said its probe was "totally independent and separate from the JIT's investigation."

dj/rt (Reuters, AFP, Interfax)

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