Investigators have named four suspects they will charge with murder over the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed 298 people, including 38 Australians.
- Four suspects are said to be responsible for supplying the missile launcher used to shoot down MH17
- Investigators say the three Russian suspects have military and intelligence backgrounds
- Internet sleuths Bellingcat also released a report into the incident, naming more individuals it says are suspects
The Joint Investigations Team (JIT) named three Russians — Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Poelatov — as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who will be prosecuted by Dutch authorities in March next year.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was travelling over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists in July 2014 when it was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile.
Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said all four suspects were responsible for bringing the BUK-M1 missile launcher into a field in Pervomaisky, eastern Ukraine, where the missile was fired from.
He said all four suspects, who are believed to be living in Russia and Ukraine, will be subject to international arrest warrants and placed on international wanted lists.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the “absolutely hollow claims” from the JIT that Russian servicemen were involved in the downing of MH17 were unfounded, while the former leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic has labelled the investigation team biased.
“Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Dutch police chief Wilbert Paulissen said a request to extradite the suspects will not be made as both the Russian and Ukrainian constitutions do not allow their nationals to be extradited for criminal trials.
Instead, investigators said the suspects will be tried in absentia when the trial starts at The Hague on March 9, 2020.
Mr Westerbeke said investigators established Russia had a role in the tragedy because they made available the missile that was used to shoot down MH17.
“The Russian Federation has not disclosed anything that happened and that is a slap in the face for all the relatives of the victims, and I call out to them to start cooperating,” Mr Westerbeke said.
“We have proof that the Russian Federation is involved in this tragedy, in this crime, in one way of the other.
“One day after July 17 , they could have been in a position to tell us exactly what happened, and they didn’t give us this information.
“I would not call this cooperation.”
Mr Westerbeke said the three Russian suspects have military and intelligence backgrounds — Mr Girkin, 48, is a former colonel in the Federal Security Service (FSB), Mr Dubinskiy, 56, was employed by the Russian Military Intelligence Service, and 52-year-old Mr Pulatov is a former soldier with Russia’s Spetznaz special forces, also known as the GRU.
Ukrainian Mr Kharchenko, 47, has no military background, Mr Westerbeke said.
While the JIT accuses the four suspects of being responsible for bringing the missile launcher into the area, it still has not identified those responsible for firing the actual missile that brought the jetliner down.
“We still think it is feasible that we will come up with more evidence and more suspects,” Mr Paulissen said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday (local time) he welcomed murder charges brought against four suspects and he hoped they would stand trial.
“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,” Mr Zelenskiy said in a statement.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a statement welcoming the news of the prosecution.
“The downing of MH17 was a despicable act and the Australian Government has not stopped in the pursuit of justice for the 298 victims, including 38 Australians,” the statement read.
Internet sleuths release report into confirmed suspects
Internet open-source investigators Bellingcat have also released a new report, identifying more individuals it believes were involved in the crash.
The group’s investigators trawled through social media networks and utilised newly-developed facial recognition tools to identify separatist soldiers who were in the area the day the plane went down.
They also analysed the voices of recorded phone intercepts which were made public by the Joint Investigation Team in 2016.
One phone call between two military units in the area was made just a few minutes before MH17 was hit by the missile.
Bezler: Yes, NaemnikS
Naemnik: A birdie is flying towards you.
Bezler: Is a birdie flying towards us?
Naemnik: Yes … one for now.
Bezler: A reconnaissance or a big one?
Naemnik: Can’t see behind the clouds … too high.
Bezler: I see … roger … report upwards.
Years of investigations bear fruit
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was travelling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur in July 2014, when it was shot down over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
All 298 people on board were killed, including 38 Australians.
An international team of investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine last year concluded the Russian military played a pivotal role in providing the deadly missile to the separatists.
Russia has vehemently denied all involvement.
Last year, Moscow blamed Ukrainian forces for the incident, and said the missile was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era and had not been returned to Russia.
Russia does not extradite its nationals for prosecution, so any suspects would have to be tried in absentia.
Australian Federal Police vow to see result
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Crozier vowed to keep going until those responsible were brought to justice.
“We won’t stop,” Assistant Commissioner Crozier told the ABC.
“So just because we know that is a challenge for us doesn’t mean we’re not going to pursue justice on behalf of those victims, on behalf of those people close to them and their family members.
“We’ll do all we can to look and use every avenue that’s available to us, every opportunity that might become available to us to try and put those people before justice.”