Three of the four men on trial in the Netherlands for shooting down flight MH17 in 2014 have been found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison, but the fourth has been acquitted on all charges.
Judges at the high security court near Schiphol said on Thursday afternoon that the case against three of the men had been proven but that there was no evidence that the fourth, Russian national national Oleg Pulatov, had been involved in the decision to use the Buk missile.
Pulatov was the only one of the four to have brought in lawyers, and they argued he should be acquitted because he had not received a fair trial.
None of the suspects – three Russians and one Ukrainian – were present in the high-security courtroom near Schiphol airport to hear the verdicts and the three found guilty are unlikely to actually spend time in jail. Prosecutors had demanded life sentences for all four men.
Sentencing Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko to life in jail, the court said there was an ‘overwhelming amount of evidence’ that MH17 had been brought down by a Buk missile.
Girkin, a former colonel in the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service was commander of the army in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic at the time MH17 was shot down.
Dubinskiy is a former military officer with GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, and one of Girkin’s deputies while Kharchenko received his orders directly from Dubinskiy and in July 2014 was commander of a combat unit in the Donetsk region. Pulatov was deputy head of the region’s intelligence service.
The documents do not show who gave the order to fire the missile and why that happened, nor who the crew was, the court said.
‘But anyone who used such a weapon will be aware of the enormous consequences it could have,’ the court said. ‘A weapon is not fired by accident. It may have been a mistake to hit the plane, but that does not detract from the intention.’
The official investigation concluded in 2016 that the plane was shot down from Ukrainian farmland by a BUK missile ‘controlled by pro-Russian fighters’. That conclusion has been disputed by Russia, which claims that Ukrainian fighters were responsible.
The passengers and crew came from 17 different countries and included 196 Dutch nationals.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said in a reaction that the verdict is ‘another step in the pursuit of truth and justice for the victims and their loved ones’, but warned that that everyone involved had the right to appeal.
Relative Matthew Horder, who came to the Netherlands from Australia for the verdict, told RTL that he had lost his mother and his father in the disaster.
‘It is important for me to be here to represent mum and dad,’ said Horder, who had given evidence to the trial by video link. ‘Hopefully we can now start to accept what happened and move forward.’
Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko were also ordered to pay relatives of those who died a total of €16 million in compensation.
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