Badhoevedorp: Dutch judges ruled that the trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014 could continue despite none of them turning up at court.
Proceedings could go ahead “in absentia” against three of the suspects – Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko, chief judge Hendrik Steenhuis said yesterday.
“We assume that they have waived their right to be present since they do not value the right to be present, ” Steenhuis said, adding that attempts had been made to issue summonses by post and social media.
“The court will allow the due process to prevail in the case against Girkin, Dubinsky and Kharchenko and we will try them in absentia.”
A fourth suspect, Russian national Oleg Pulatov, would be represented by a lawyer but would not be present, the judge added.
Families of the 298 victims have fought for more than half a decade for justice for the victims, who were killed when the jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a Russian-made missile as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Steenhuis declared the trial open at the court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport where the flight took off, adding that there had been a “tragic loss of human lives from all around the world” in the “atrocious disaster”.
The courtroom in the high-security building was packed with relatives, lawyers and journalists, with many family members scheduled to speak during the trial.
“I think today is of the highest importance, ” said Piet Ploeg, head of a foundation for MH17 victims who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew on the doomed flight.
“This is the first day that we will know what happened, who was responsible, why the plane was shot down, and to questions like what was Russia’s role.
“There are relatives who want the smallest details, who want justice to be done. And there are others who want life to move on, who want to leave that all behind them, ” he added.
Russia has long denied any involvement in the downing of MH17, and has offered a series of alternative explanations for the plane’s downing.
Moscow again on Friday accused the Netherlands of a “crude attempt to put pressure on the court”.
“In the last days before the hearings everything was done to fill the gaps in the evidence presented and to camouflage the falsification of the facts of this version in advance, ” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that the trial was being held in “full independence” and was a “very important step to get to the truth and to find justice for the victims and their relatives”.
More than two-thirds of the victims – 196 in total – were Dutch.
Prosecutors say the four suspects were all linked to pro-Russian separatists on whose territory the plane’s wreckage fell and who were instrumental in bringing the BUK missile system to Ukraine, even if they did not pull the trigger.
If found guilty, they could be handed life sentences. — AFP
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