Netherlands starts trial for downing of flight MH17.

Dutch judges on Monday began the oral hearing of the MH17 tragedy case, a trial of four suspects for their alleged role in the deaths of the 298 passengers of the Malaysia Airlines plane downed in July 2014 in Ukraine, after more than a year of trial preparation.

Over the next four days, judges at the High Security Court, located inside the Schiphol court complex, will examine in more detail the evidence against the four suspects and get into the substance of the case, summarized in a file of some 40,000 pages and after 25 preparatory sessions since March 9 last year, EFE reported.

The prosecution charges three Russian citizens – Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov – and one Ukrainian – Leonid Kharchenko – with alleged “murder”, but the trial is being held mainly in absentia, as only Pulatov recognizes this court proceeding in the Netherlands, although he does not plan to attend personally, and is represented by a team of Dutch lawyers with whom he has met in Moscow to prepare the case.

The judges will have to decide whether flight MH17 was shot down with a Russian-made Buk missile on July 17, 2014 in eastern Ukraine, a fact that the Prosecution considers proven with sufficient evidence, while Pulatov’s Defense has advocated demanding an investigation of other scenarios.

The other open question is the place from where that missile was fired: the prosecution defends that the plane was shot down from a specific field controlled by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, a theory challenged by the Defense, which argued that the wiretapped telephone conversations used as evidence contain propagandistic messages to confuse the other side of the conflict.

Once the two prosecution theories are confirmed, the judges will have to determine with the available evidence what was the role of the four suspects in everything that happened: it is believed that they were high-ranking military officers active in the area of the separatists at the time of the tragedy and were responsible for ensuring that the Buk missile launcher was discreetly installed in the area.

This Monday, mainly the proceedings will be discussed, but the rest of the week, the most important facts and conclusions of the case will be dealt with, because so far, the sessions have been mainly based on the admissibility of evidence and a visit of the judges to the wreckage of the plane.

None of the defendants is accused of firing or giving the order to fire on MH17, a matter that is still open for the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which continues to pursue investigations into what happened to the Boeing 777, which left seven years ago from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for Kuala Lumpur.

It is expected that by the end of this month, the Prosecution and the Defense will be able to explain the evidence they consider important to their case, and in September, the families of the 298 victims – mostly Dutch – will have the opportunity to participate in the judicial process. At the moment, more than 70 relatives want to speak in court.

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