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19 Jun, 2019 13:48

Dutch-led investigators demand arrest of 4 people allegedly involved in MH17 downing

International investigators have accused three Russians and one Ukrainian of shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, with the trial to start next year. Moscow has repeatedly criticized “inconsistencies” in the probe.

The report by Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on Wednesday said they collected enough evidence for murder charges to be presented to the Dutch court. The latter will decide whether the four suspects are responsible for the incident that claimed 298 lives. The plane was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine amid an armed conflict between government and rebel forces. Most of the victims were Dutch passengers.

The top suspect is Igor Girkin, a Russian national, who was a senior commander under the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov at the time. The other suspects are fellow anti-Kiev fighters and Russian nationals Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov as well as Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian.

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The investigators allege that the four people were responsible for bringing a Buk launcher into Ukraine from the Russian territory and using it to shoot down flight MH17. The probe noted that the tragedy may have happened by accident, with the rebels believing that they were targeting a Ukrainian warplane. That, JIT says, does not make the crime any less serious.

The JIT said three of the suspects are currently in Russia while the fourth is in Ukraine. The Netherlands will issue international arrest warrants for the four individuals, but won’t seek extraditions, since neither Ukraine nor Russia are allowed to extradite its citizens due to their respective constitutions. This makes it unlikely that any of the four individuals would stand before the court, once it begins in March 2020, the JIT said.

Girkin denies the allegations by reiterating that he and his men were not responsible for the downing of the ill-fated flight.

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The JIT includes representatives from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands. Kiev lauded the accusations against the four, raised by the JIT, praising the international team of investigators.

“Ukraine welcomes the conclusions of the Joint Investigation Team on MH17. The President of Ukraine hopes that... those who are guilty of this brazen murder of innocent children, woman and men, will be put in the dock,” recently elected President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement.

Pointing out “inconsistencies” in the probe, Moscow said the Dutch-led team was reluctant to search or study evidence that contradicted the theory that rebels were responsible for the incident. Moscow stands accused of providing the Buk launcher and missile, an allegation that it denies.

Moscow also blamed the JIT of failing to pressure Ukraine into providing radar data for the day when MH17 was shot down. It published its own radar data as well as records related to production and transportation of Buk missiles in Soviet times. According to Moscow, the data and records point to Ukraine as the culprit in the case. In particular, the warhead that destroyed the plane was of an older model that is no longer in use in Russia while its serial numbers, which were recovered at the crash site, point to a projectile that had been shipped to Ukraine.

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Russia also criticized the JIT for relying on so-called ‘open source evidence’ like videos published on social media as well as opinions of ‘civilian journalists’ like the UK-based group Bellingcat in its reporting. Moscow says such evidence is not always reliable.

Bellingcat published its own report with a longer list of people, whom it accused of shooting down the airliner. The four suspects named by the JIT are on that list. Notably, the report was issued just hours before the JIT press conference.

Meanwhile, Russia is not the only country that has reservations about JIT’s work. Last month Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country was not convinced by the evidence uncovered about either Russia’s involvement or Ukraine’s innocence in the case.

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