MH17 defence team calls for acquittal after 11 days of hearings

A reconstruction of the wreckage of MH17 by the Dutch Safety Board.
Photo: Molly Quell

Another stage in the trial of four men for their role in the downing of flight MH17 ended on Wednesday with the defence team for one of the men calling for their client’s full acquittal.

Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, one of four men charged with murder and shooting down a passenger aircraft, had presented their arguments over 11 days at a high-security courtroom near Schiphol Airport, where the Malaysian Airlines flight departed from in July 2014.

Four suspects – three Russians and one Ukrainian – are charged with causing the crash of flight MH17 which was shot down over eastern Ukraine en route to Kuala Lumpur. None of the men is in custody and only Pulatov has retained a lawyer.

The defense argued that Pulatov is not receiving a fair trial and the prosecution had ‘tunnel vision’ when it approached the case. ‘This does not meet the standards and minimum requirements of a fair trial,’ Sabine ten Doesschate told the court. The defense presentation started earlier this month.

Ten Doesschate and her co-counsel, Boudewijn van Eijck, have claimed the prosecution kept them on an extremely ‘short leash’ and refused to investigate any scenario other than that determined by the Joint Investigation Team.

The international team investigating the disaster concluded in 2018 that the Boeing 777 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that originated with a Russian military unit and was transported over the border to Russian-backed separatists in the region.

Life sentence

Prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for all four men. ‘It is clear that only a long prison sentence is appropriate,’ prosecutor Thijs Berger told the court just before Christmas.

The trial started nearly two years ago, attracting tremendous media attention. More than 500 journalists from all over the world turned up for its opening day, only days before the Netherlands went into lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, the Dutch have pursued Moscow in a series of cases before international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights and the international civil aviation authority ICAO.

The prosecution will have an opportunity to respond to the arguments made by the defence in May. A verdict is expected before the end of the year.

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