Dutch prosecutors to file charges over MH17 downing

Dutch prosecutors to file charges over MH17 downing

PUCHONG: Dutch prosecutors are said to be preparing themselves to file first criminal charges against four suspects for allegedly shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 five years ago.

British daily The Guardian said the prosecutors are in the midst of identifying the suspects and the charges would likely target Russia-backed separatists based in Eastern Ukraine.

The doomed plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it was shot down over a territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board.

About two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch nationals. Also killed were 43 Malaysians.

“The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is set to present new evidence on the MH17 investigation on Wednesday, and is expected to name its first four suspects in the case,” the report said.

The report described the incident as the worst atrocity in five years of war between Ukraine and the separatists, adding those charged may include Russian servicemen who commanded or helped transport the anti-aircraft missile system used to bring down MH17.

It said the charges will raise tensions with Moscow, which is unlikely to turn in its citizens, especially those in uniform, to stand trial in a foreign country or at the international criminal court.

Russia’s constitution is said to forbid the extradition of its citizens.

The report said the Joint Investigation Team previously alleged that the surface-to-air missile that brought down MH17 belonged to the Russian armed forces and had been supplied by the country’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk.

“Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, disregarded those findings, saying the investigation ‘did not inspire confidence’ and that ‘several versions’ of events existed,” it said.

The Guardian also reported that Ukraine’s foreign ministry confirmed on Tuesday that criminal charges would be brought against the suspects named in the team’s presentation.

“The names will be announced. Charges will be brought. After that, the criminal court of Schiphol will start working to consider this case,” it quoted Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Olena Zerkal, as telling the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

“They are only the top. Naturally, then the number of people who are involved in this will be much larger than the four people who will be named.”

Zerkal was also quoted as saying he believed the charges could target ‘senior officers’ in the Russian army because the transfer of a surface-to-air missile system ‘is impossible without the top brass’s permission’.

The Guardian said the investigative collective Bellingcat, which collected and analysed open-source data about the incident, will also make a presentation on Wednesday identifying ‘separatists involved in the downing of the plane’.

Last year, Bellingcat identified one of the Russian military intelligence officers allegedly involved as Oleg Ivannikov, a career GRU officer who operated undercover in rebel-controlled Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

According to the website, Ivannikov operated under the cover names “Orion” and “Andrey Ivanovich”.

The Guardian added that it was unclear if several names put forward by a Dutch news programme, Nieuwsuur, including Sergei Muchkaev, commander of the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk, a former Ukrainian serviceman accused of collaborating with separatist forces, and several alleged members of Russian military intelligence, commonly referred to as GRU, will be among the suspects identified on Wednesday.

“Dutch authorities have revealed few details about the upcoming announcement. The chief Dutch prosecutor, Fred Westerbeke, wrote to relatives last week and invited them to a briefing on Wednesday in Nieuwegein, near Utrecht,” the report said.

The closed meeting for family members will take place ahead of a press conference scheduled for 1pm local time on Wednesday, it added.

Last month, Malaysian prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government wants strong evidence to show that Russia was responsible for shooting down MH17.

“They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence? We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine.

“You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians, it could be by the rebels in Ukraine, it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” Mahathir was reported saying.

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