Dutch court tracks BUK missile that downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis (right), plus other trial judges and lawyers, view the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - People charged with being involved in shooting down flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 moved the BUK missile battery back to Russia, a Dutch court heard on Thursday (June 10).

Judges have been examining the route taken by a ground-air missile system that destroyed a Boeing 777 on July 17 2014, killing all 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch citizens.

Investigators say the missile battery was deployed near the town of Pervomayski, which was controlled by Ukrainian separatists.

Intercepted communications suggest a defence strategy was quickly drafted after the plane was shot down, according to which it was said to have been hit by a Ukrainian combat jet, which was then downed by the Russian missile battery.

Russian nationals Oleg Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were charged with murder after the airliner was blown from the sky on a routine flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The missiles are believed to have come from the Russian army's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk, not far from the border with Ukraine.

Pulatov, the only defendant to be represented at the trial, told his lawyers that references to a "BUK" system in the intercepted conversations was intended to fool enemy forces.

Judges on Monday said the court will look this week at evidence concerning three key questions: whether the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian-made missile; the location the missile was fired from, and the role of the four suspects in the crash.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers will have the chance to present their cases during hearings that are to last until July 9.

Relatives of the victims will be able to address the court in September.

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