MH17 trial starts with four absconding accused who face murder charges

The trial has opened in the Netherlands of three Russians and a Ukrainian – still at large – for the murder of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

The Boeing 777 went down amid a conflict in eastern Ukraine, after Russian-backed rebels seized the area.

Investigators say they have proof the Buk missile system that shot it down came from a military base in Russia.

A judge called it an “atrocious disaster”, as proceedings began.

The trial is in a court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, the departure point for the Kuala Lumpur-bound flight.

Head judge Hendrik Steenhuis said there had been a “tragic loss of human lives from all around the world”.

Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the deadly attack on 17 July 2014. Citizens of 10 different countries died on the airliner.

The three Russian men and one Ukrainian man from eastern Ukraine are all linked to the heavily armed pro-Moscow separatists.

Neither country extradites its citizens but one of the Russians will have a defence team in the courtroom, and the court says it is also prepared to accept testimony from them by video link.

The Four Suspects:

Two of them allegedly have ties to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, which has been linked to cyber-plots as well as the deadly nerve agent attack on Salisbury in England.

Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov. He is a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence service, given the title of minister of defence in the rebel-held eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, prosecutors say

Sergei Dubinsky, known as Khmury. He was employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, according to investigators. They say he was a deputy of Mr Girkin and in regular contact with Russia

Oleg Pulatov, known as Giurza. He is allegedly a former soldier with GRU special forces who became deputy head of the intelligence service in Donetsk.

Leonid Kharchenko
, known as Krot. He is a Ukrainian national with no military background who led a combat unit as a commander in Eastern Ukraine, say prosecutors.

The four are accused of murdering 298 people and causing the MH17 crash. Prosecutors say the men are jointly accountable for the attack because they “co-operated to obtain and deploy” the Buk missile launcher in order to shoot down an aircraft.

Court summonses were sent to all four although it is not certain that the men received them, so one early task for the court will be to decide whether sufficient effort was made to reach them.

Significantly, one of the suspects, Oleg Pulatov, will be represented by a defence team, so the court may decide he is not considered in absentia. Igor Girkin said he does not recognise the court’s authority.