Daily Tribune (Philippines)

No witnesses, lawyer of plane downing suspect claims

Four suspects are being tried in absentia


THE HAGUE Netherland­s (AFP) — Dutch lawyers representi­ng a suspect accused of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 said Monday that no witnesses exist who could implicate their client in the incident in which 298 people died.

The case about the ill-fated flight, shot down over war-torn Ukraine on 17 July that year, took on a new dimension as hearings resumed near Schiphol airport to the backdrop of Russia’s invasion into its neighbor almost two weeks ago.

“Not a single witness can testify to our client’s role, position or alleged involvemen­t in the charges,” Boudewijn van Eijck told the judges.

“Nonetheles­s, the public prosecutio­n thought that even with so little evidence of his involvemen­t he had to be prosecuted and they demanded the highest penalty against him,” Van Eijck said.

Four suspects are on trial: Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko, accused for their roles in launching the BUK missile that hit the plane over war-torn eastern Ukraine.

Prosecutor­s called for life sentences against the four men when they closed their case late last year.

The defense opened for Pulatov on Monday, the only suspect with legal representa­tion.

Defense lawyers said they will discuss “alternativ­e scenarios” about how flight MH17 may have been brought down. A verdict not expected until late 2022 at the earliest. All four suspects are being tried in absentia.

At the start of the hearing, presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis expressed his sympathy with Ukrainian citizens.

Ill-fated flight shot down over war-torn Ukraine.

“The court realizes that the question is whether it is appropriat­e under these circumstan­ces to continue the criminal case,” he said.

“The answer is yes. Four individual persons are on trial, not one state,” Steenhuis said at the hearing, held at a special high-security court close to where flight MH17 took off for a routine flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.

“What is happening in Ukraine is terrible, we are watching the developmen­ts with dismay,” said. Sabine ten Doesschate, Pulatov’s other lawyer.

“But every suspect has the right to a fair trial and legal aid,” she said.

The best known of the suspects, 51-year-old Girkin — nicknamed “gunner” — was one of the main separatist commanders at the start of the conflict with the Ukrainian army.

Dubinsky, 57, is said to be linked to Russian military intelligen­ce, while Pulatov, 53, is a former member of the Russian special forces and Dubinsky’s deputy.

Kharchenko, 48, is believed to have led a separatist unit in eastern Ukraine.

All four men deny any involvemen­t in the downing of the plane.

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