International investigators yesterday charged four people with murder over the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 above rebel-held eastern Ukraine in which 298 people were killed.
The Dutch-led team said it was going to prosecute Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko over the downing of the plane.
Relatives of the victims said they had been told the trial of the men for murder would start in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as Russia does not extradite its nationals for prosecution.
Russia has vehemently denied all involvement in the downing of MH17, while Girkin yesterday said that Ukrainian separatists were also not implicated.
“Today we will send out international arrest warrants for the first suspects that we will prosecute. They will also be placed on national and international wanted lists,” Netherlands National Police Chief Constable Wilbert Paulissen chief constable told a news conference.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said they were the “four who will be held accountable for bringing the deadly weapon, the BUK Telar, into eastern Ukraine.”
The same investigation team in May last year said that the BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian Military Brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
The airliner traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was torn apart after being hit by a missile over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists on July 17, 2014, investigators said.
Wreckage was spread over a wide area in an incident that plunged relations between Moscow and the West, already tense over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, deep into crisis.
Prosecutors said Girkin was a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence agency and was the self-declared minister of defense in the separatist administration in eastern Ukraine.
Dubinskiy was a former minister from the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, Pulatov was a former soldier in Russia’s Spetznaz special forces unit and Kharchenko a Ukrainian separatist.
A number of telephone intercepts were played that prosecutors said showed that the four were involved.
Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 welcomed the news.
“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” said Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster. “I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.”
Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”
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