Defence says missile theory unproven as MH17 trial wraps

Judges listen to criminal proceedings in the Netherlands, regarding the 2014 downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine. PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Dutch lawyers for a suspect accused of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 said prosecutors failed to prove a Russian-made missile brought down the jetliner, as they wrapped up their case on Thursday (June 9).

The passenger jet was shot down while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 on board, as Kyiv's forces battled pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's war-torn east.

The trial of four men, which started in March 2020, has taken on a new significance since Russia's late February invasion of its neighbour, in which a slew of new war crimes are being alleged.

"To conclude, the prosecution failed to prove from tapped (mobile) conversations, images and witness statements that this was the missile that downed MH17," said Sabine ten Doesschate, who represents suspect Oleg Pulatov.

"And even if a missile was launched, it cannot be proven conclusively this was the missile that hit MH17."

Prosecutors in December called for life sentences for the four men allegedly involved: Russian nationals Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky as well as Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko.

Only Pulatov has legal representation and none of the men have appeared in court.

Pulatov's lawyers told judges that there were "holes" in the prosecution's case because they were too focused only on proving separatists used a Russian-supplied BUK missile.

"Telling the story to them was more important than finding conclusive evidence," Ten Doesschate said at hearing, held at a courthouse close to Schiphol airport where flight MH17 took off.

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For instance, it could not be proven that a smoke trail - which prosecutors said was seen shortly after the missile was fired - was in fact that belonging to a BUK missile.

Judges could not come to "any other conclusion than an acquittal" for her client, she said.

Defence lawyers said they will discuss "alternative scenarios" for the downing of MH17 on Friday, after which the judges are set to retire to deliberate.

The court has said a verdict is not expected until November 2022 at the earliest.

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

The hearings come as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine and the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor called the whole of the country a "crime scene" following Russia's invasion.

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