Malaysia Airlines crash trial grants defence investigation into alternative scenarios

Boudewijn van Eijck (L) and Sabine ten Doesschate defence lawyers for suspect Oleg Pulatov, arrive at The Schiphol Judicial Complex in Badhoevedorp on July 3, 2020, for the trial of four people – three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian – for allegedly killing 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down by a Buk missile over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, in the midst of the country's civil conflict. - AFP

THE HAGUE: Judges in the trial of suspects in the 2014 downing of a MalaysiaAirlines flight over Eastern Ukraine on Friday accepted a defence request that an investigator examine possible alternative explanations for the crash.

According to Dutch prosecutors, flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was deliberately shot down by a BUK missile fired by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, who obtained the missile launcher from a Russian army base just across the border.

After nearly six years of research by international investigators, four defendants went on trial in March over the downing of flight MH17, which killed all 298 aboard.

The four - Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko - remain at large. Pulatov has instructed lawyers to defend him, while the other three are being tried in absentia without representation.

Moscow has always denied blame for the crash and proposed a range of alternative explanations which the Dutch-led team of international investigators rejected.

On Friday the court accepted a request from Pulatov's lawyers that investigating judges obtain testimony from more witnesses, to examine other possible scenarios. Those include a theory that the civilian aircraft was shot by mistake or that it was being used as a shield for a military aircraft.

The trial was adjourned until August 31 to give the investigative judges the time to hear the additional witnesses, and to give the defence time to meet with Pulatov.

So far, his lawyers say they have been unable to meet with him in person and share details of the investigation, because COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to travel to Russia, where he resides. - Reuters

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