Prosecutors with the Joint Investigation Team have charged four men with murder in connection to the missile attack that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014, the Associated Press reports. All 298 people aboard were killed in the crash on July 17, 2014 on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Three of the men, Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Sergey Dubinskiy, Russian military intelligence, and Oleg Pulatov, a member of Russian special forces, are Russian and the fourth, Leonid Kharchenko, is Ukrainian. Kharchenko is believed to have led a combat unit in Donetwsk at the time of the crash, CNN reports.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four men are charged with “causing the crash of MH17, leading to the death of all the people on board … and murdering 298 passengers of flight MH17.” While they are not charged with firing the missile that downed MH17, they are “just as punishable as the person who committed the crime,” he said. In addition, he says the four are suspected of obtaining the Buk missile that downed the airliner with the “intention of shooting down a plane.”
Investigators believe the Boeing 777 was mistaken for a Ukrainian military plane by the Ukranian rebels. Igor Girkin wrote on his social media account that the rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military plane around the time and location of the missile attack before deleting the post.
Investigators announced last year that the Buk missile, which the AP calls an “unusually big and sophisticated type of weapon”, belonged to Russia’s 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade, located near Pervomaisk at the time.
The JIT, which is made up of investigators from Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, has built a case from social media posts, wiretaps, and radar images, according to the AP. The charges in the case, which is led by the Netherlands because 200 of the victims were Dutch citizens, are a step towards tying the attack to the Kremlin. Dutch prosecutors have asked for information that would lead higher up the chain of command and identify the crew who shot the missile, because “it’s important to know who can be held responsible for this absolute tragedy.”
The trial will take place in the Netherlands in March 2020, although the defendants likely will not be in attendance. Neither Russia nor Ukraine will not allow their citizens to be extradited. Prosecutors vow the case will go forward without the defendants, if necessary. Dutch law allows trials in absentia. If convicted, the men could be sentenced to life in prison.
Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce died in the attack, told AP, “This is what we hoped for. This is a start of it. It is a good start.” She holds Putin responsible for the attack that killed her son, saying, “He made this possible. He created the situation.” Speaking about Russia’s lack of cooperation, Silene said, “I think it’s disgusting. They deny everything, they don’t cooperate. Nothing.”
Responding to today’s charges, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the JIT press conference was aimed at “discrediting” Russia and that the findings of investigators are “absolutely unfounded accusations.” “No concrete evidence this time was shown to back up such unlawful statements,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The statement also took issue with the allegation that that Russia has refused to fully cooperate with the investigation. “We strongly reject such accusations. From the first day of the tragedy, the Russian Federation was highly interested in establishing the truth and is ready to provide all-round assistance to the investigation,” the Russian statement read.