Dutch judges have sentenced three suspects in absentia to life in prison for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
In Thursday’s ruling, Igor Girkin, the military leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, was convicted of deploying the missile and seeking Russian help; Sergei Dubinsky was found to have ordered and supervised the transportation of a Buk missile launcher; and Leonid Kharchenko was found to have supervised Buk and acted on Dubinsky’s instructions.
A fourth suspect, Oleg Pulatov, a Russian national also in absentia, was acquitted, although judges found he knew about the extortion, Xinhua news agency reported.
The trio were also ordered to pay more than 16 million euros in damages to the victims’ relatives.
The sentences were handed down after a two-hour hearing in a heavily guarded courthouse near Amsterdam in the presence of relatives of the victims.
“The court considers it proven that flight MH17 was hit by a Buk missile fired from an agricultural field near (the village of) Pervomajskyi in Ukraine. It was in the territory controlled by the separatists,” reads the summary of the judgment.
The decision was in line with the findings of a previous investigation by a joint investigation team (JIT) between the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Australia and Malaysia.
According to the verdict, the three suspects played a vital role in the downing of flight MH17 by organizing, directing and conducting field work.
An abbreviated appeal can be filed against the court’s decision within two weeks.
On 17 July 2014, 298 people, including 80 children and 15 crew members, boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
The plane was cruising at 33,000 feet above Ukraine. These were the beginnings of Russian efforts to control parts of the country.
In response, Ukraine closed airspace at lower altitudes – up to 32,000 feet.
The flight was shot down while flying 1,000 feet above this restricted airspace.
Of the 298 on board from 17 countries, 196 were from the Netherlands, 43 from Malaysia, 38 from Australia and 10 from the United Kingdom.
Based on the SVT investigation, the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office (OM) decided on 19 June 2019 to initiate criminal prosecution of the suspects.
The court in The Hague opened the trial on 9 March 2020.
While Russia rejected the findings, calling the JIT report “biased and politically motivated,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called Thursday’s verdict a “very important decision.”