MH17 plane crash families prepare for critical trial phase 

FILE PHOTO: Lawyers attend the judges' inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage, as part of the murder trial ahead of the beginning of a critical stage, in Reijen, Netherlands, May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool


By Stephanie van den Berg

June 4, 2021

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Families of people who died in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 said they were preparing to hear painful details when a critical stage of a trial over the crash starts on Monday.

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels during fighting with Ukrainian government troops, international investigators say.

All 298 people on board were killed, two-thirds of them Dutch nationals.

Dutch judges overseeing the murder trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian man accused of having responsibility for the downing will summarise evidence at the hearing in a high-security courtroom next to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

"On the one hand we want to know exactly what happened, why it happened and who was responsible, but the price you pay for that is that there is also information released that could be shocking," Piet Ploeg, a spokesman for the relatives, said.

"Eventually that should lead to getting justice and justice includes at least that we have an independent court rule on who was responsible," he told Reuters. Ploeg lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew in the crash.

After years of collecting evidence, a team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the missile launcher used to shoot down the aircraft belonged to Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

The Dutch government holds Moscow responsible. Russia denies any involvement.

Prosecutors, who say the four defendants all held leading positions in pro-Russian militias operating in Ukraine, will present evidence and may call witnesses, court officials said.

None of the defendants are in custody. One, Russian Oleg Pulatov, is represented in the proceedings and has said he had no involvement in the crash.

The other three are being tried in absentia and have not appointed lawyers to represent them.

Prosecutors say the investigation into MH17 is still ongoing and they are looking at other possible suspects, including the people who manned the missile system and ordered its firing.

After the prosecution presents its view on the judges' summary of the case file on June 17 and 18, the defence will have an opportunity to respond.

No date has yet been set for closing arguments, but the court said that victims' families could address the judges directly about the impact of the crash on their lives in hearings in September.

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