MH17 criminal probe at ‘advanced stage’ as relatives press Malaysia Airlines with lawsuit

A Dutch-led investigation team has said that their probe into the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine will reveal the type of weapon used and the launch site “after the summer.” Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines is being sued by the victims’ relatives.

The investigation is at a “very advanced stage,” the international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) tasked with establishing the circumstances surrounding the July 2014 tragedy and finding those responsible said in a statement. 

However, the team noted that it findings would be included in a criminal file for ensuing court proceedings and would not be made public.

READ MORE:Dutch call for more transparency in MH17 probe as police briefs victims’ relatives (RT EXCLUSIVE)

The JIT also claimed that it is “still waiting for information from the Russian Federation about BUK [missile defense systems] installations” – despite Moscow’s repeated calls for it to consider the satellite and technical data it has already provided. 

In February, Oleg Storchevoy, the deputy head of Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, penned an official letter that accused the Dutch Safety Board and JIT of “showing no interest” in working with Russia.

“I would like to stress that Russia disclosed all of its available satellite data in the days immediately following the crash,” he wrote, adding that the data it had submitted to the investigation showed “movement and increased activity by Ukrainian BUK surface-to-air missile systems observed within the conflict area in eastern Ukraine one day ahead of the tragedy.”

READ MORE:‘Incompetent & biased’: Former air defense chief refutes Bellingcat ‘Russian Buk in Ukraine’ report

As for technical specifications such as the systems’ range and capabilities, the rocket’s manufacturer, Almaz-Antey, carried out its own research, test-firing missiles to study their fragmentation. Detailed data from the tests, along with the technical characteristics of the BUK and BUK-M1 systems, were submitted for the JIT’s consideration, stressed Storchevoy.

According to Almaz-Antey’s conclusions, the rocket could only have been launched from the village of Zaroshchenskoye, which was under the control of Ukraine’s military forces at the time. Despite the lack of evidence, Kiev and Western media reports have insisted from the early stages of investigation that the launch site was, on the contrary, in rebel-held territory.

Malaysia Airlines ‘did not perform proper risk or threat assessments’ – lawyer

The announcement comes as the relatives of six MH17 crew members killed in the crash are suing Malaysia Airlines for negligence and breach of contract. The lawsuit filed on Thursday blames the company for failing to assess risks associated with flying over the conflict zone, Reuters reported.

The airline declined to comment on the claim, but in response to Reuters, it referred to the report of the Dutch Safety Board, which concluded “the way in which MAS [Malaysia Airlines] prepared and operated the flight complied with International Civil Aviation Organization regulations.” 

RT spoke with aviation attorney Jerry Skinner, one of the US’ leading aviation attorneys with more than 30 years of experience in the field, who is part of the group of lawyers suing Malaysia on behalf of the families. 

Skinner said that the airline “dragged their feet all way up until the last minute” with paying compensation to the relatives of the victims, citing the company’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. He stressed that the issue cannot be connected to insurance payments. 

Under the Montreal Convention of 1999, the carrier is responsible for all deaths and injuries occurring on board an aircraft. In total, 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed in the MH17 disaster.

Skinner said that Dutch Safety Board’s report released on October 13, 2015 was inconclusive, as it did not name the party responsible for downing the jet.

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Skinner believes Malaysia Airlines could have done more to prevent the tragedy.

“The airline did not perform proper risk or threat assessments and limited its information to the information that it could obtain inside the company,” he said. For instance, the company failed to take into account information made available by the International Civil Aviation Authority.

However, the lawyer hopes that, in the end, the truth will prevail, and “facts will be discovered which will determine responsibility.”

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was brought down by a missile over the Donetsk Region of eastern Ukraine. The flight path passed over an active warzone in an area being contested by Ukrainian government forces and eastern Ukrainian militias seeking autonomy from Kiev.