Judges view pieced-together wreckage of MH17 ahead of murder trial

‘We cannot get closer to the death of the 298 victims than this’: Judges view pieced-together wreckage of MH17 ahead of murder trial due to begin next month

  • Dutch prosecutors are preparing to make opening arguments at murder trial over MH17 shoot-down in 2014 
  • Today, judges were taken to see the plane wreckage to get a sense of the damage that missiles cause to it 
  • ‘We cannot get closer to the death of the 298 victims than this,’ lawyer Arlette Schijns said during the session 
  • Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko are being tried in absentia, accused of being rebel commanders in Ukraine who ordered the jet to be shot down 

Judges overseeing a murder trial against three Russians and a Ukrainian national accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 viewed the wreckage of the jet today, as prosecutors prepare to present their case.

The aircraft was shot down in July 2014 in the skies over eastern Ukraine amid fighting between government forces and rebel groups backed by Putin. All 298 people on board were killed – two thirds of them Dutch.

Seven years on, prosecutors are preparing to open a case against four rebel commanders accused of being directly involved in the shoot-down with opening arguments due to begin in Amsterdam on July 7.

Today, attorneys took the judges for a tour of the plane wreckage which has been reconstructed in a hangar on a Netherlands airbase. ‘We cannot get closer to the death of the 298 victims than this,’ said lawyer Arlette Schijns.

Judges overseeing a murder trial against three Russians and one Ukrainian over the shoot-down of passenger jet MH17 in 2014 were taken on a tour of the wreckage today

The Malaysia Airlines flight was brought down by an anti-aircraft missile fired from a Russian-made BUK launcher being used by rebel forces fighting in eastern Ukraine, prosecutors say, killing all 298 people on board

Lawyers for the victims say it is important for the judges to get a sense of the damage that the missile caused to the jet ahead of opening arguments in the case, which are due to begin June 7

Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis is seen through a hole in the side of the plane, which has been pieced together inside an air base hangar in the Netherlands

Prosecutors say three Russian men and one Ukrainian being tried in absentia were commanders of rebel forces in eastern Ukraine who gave the order to shoot down the jet after mistaking it for a military plane

Pre-trial hearings have been going on since March 2020, but have mostly been concerned with procedural issues with no witnesses called or evidence heard. That is due to change next month. 

According to international investigators and Dutch prosecutors, the plane was shot down using a Russian-made BUK anti-aircraft missile launcher that had been smuggled from Russia into Ukraine for use by rebel forces.

They say ground commanders mis-identified the passenger plane as a Ukrainian military jet before opening fire with a missile that exploded alongside the aircraft, shredding the fuselage which then crashed to the ground.

The accused are Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who prosecutors say were involved in a chain of command that decided to open fire. All are being tried in absentia.

Pulatov is the only one to have appointed a defence team and has asked through his lawyers to address the court and lay out ‘alternative theories’ for the downing of the jet. His request was denied.

Russia denies any involvement in the downing of the jet, and has instead pedalled theories that Ukraine was responsible. Ukraine strongly denies this.

Kharchenko is the only one of the four that is actually in custody, after being arrested in eastern Ukraine last year. He is not attending the trial because he is in court in Ukraine as part of a separate case.

The other three are thought to be somewhere in Russia, which does not extradite its citizens. 

Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said before viewing the wreckage: ‘This is a reconstruction of the aircraft in which their loved ones were travelling to a destination which they never reached.’ 

Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis, right, and other trial judges and lawyers view the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen military airbase

Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis inspects the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage, as part of a murder trial which has been ongoing since March last year but will enter a new phase next month, as witnesses are called

MH17 was destroyed by an anti-aircraft missile that exploded alongside the jet, peppering it with shrapnel that caused the fuselage to disintegrate in the skies over eastern Ukraine

Judges and lawyers viewed the wreckage of MH17, which was flying between Kuala Lumpur and the Netherlands when it was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, ahead of a new phase in the trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian suspect

Two thirds of the 298 people on board the plane were Dutch, but the nationalities included Malaysians, Australians, Indonesians, Britons, Belgians, Germans, Filipinos, a New Zealander and a Canadian. 80 were children

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