Dutch MH17 trial to start without suspects

BADHOEVEDORP, NETHERLANDS (AFP) – The trial of four men accused of murder over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 opened in the Netherlands yesterday. It follows a half-decade long fight for justice by families of the 298 people who were killed when the jet was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian-made missile as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Dutch prosecutors last year charged Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko – all linked to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine – over the tragedy.

Despite international warrants issued for their arrest, none of the four suspects are expected to attend the high security court, located near Schiphol Airport where the doomed flight took off on July 17, 2014.

Head judge Hendrik Steenhuis started proceedings by checking whether the defendants were present in the courtroom.

The courtroom was packed with victims’ relatives, lawyers and journalists from around the world for the opening of the trial, expected to last a year, reflecting global outrage over the destruction of the Boeing 777.

A picture of Bryce Fredriksz and his girlfriend Daisy is placed amidst 298 empty chairs, each chair for one of the 298 victims of the downed Malaysia Air flight MH17, in a park opposite the Russian embassy in The Hague, Netherlands. PHOTO: AP

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that the trial was being held in “full independence” and was a “very important step to get to the truth and to find justice for the victims and their relatives.”

More than two thirds of the victims – 196 in total – were Dutch.

Russia has long denied any involvement in the downing of MH17, and has offered a series of alternative explanations for the plane’s downing.

Moscow again on Friday accused the Netherlands of a “crude attempt to put pressure on the court”.

In the last days before the hearings everything was done to fill the gaps in the evidence presented and to camouflage the falsification of the facts of this version in advance,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Prosecutors said the four men on trial were all linked to pro-Russian separatists on whose territory the plane’s wreckage fell and who were instrumental in bringing the BUK missile system to Ukraine – even if they did not pull the trigger.