Wednesday, January 19

Prosecutors begin to explain evidence in MH17 plane crash trial

Prosecutors in the murder trial of three Russians and one Ukrainian accused of participating in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 began explaining the evidence to judges in Amsterdam on Monday.

All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed, most of the victims were Dutch or Malaysian, but eight other nationalities were also present on the flight.

Prosecutors are scheduled to take three days to guide judges through prosecution at hearings in a maximum security courtroom outside Schiphol Airport, the departure point for the Boeing 777 heading to Kuala Lumpur. before being shot down.

“Today we are here to do the right thing for the 298 victims of flight MH17,” prosecutor Thijs Berger told the court.

“Determining the truth, in this case, can also help prevent further acts of violence in the future,” Berger told the judges.

“After all, a world that makes no effort to find out the truth and punish the guilty when hundreds of innocent civilians are killed is targeting its civilians.”

“And for that reason, the truth and the lie must be distinguished and the perpetrators must be punished. That is our task in this court,” he continued.

Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew when the MH17 was shot down, was in court for the hearing.

“We have the opportunity to hear the conclusions of the prosecution, and on Wednesday we will hear the demands for sentencing of the prosecution. So, for us, it is very important,” he said.

Monday’s hearing began amid growing tensions between Moscow and the West over a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine that has raised fears of an invasion.

Moscow has denied plans to attack its neighbor, but demanded that the West provide a set of legal guarantees that would prevent NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and other Russian neighbors and the deployment of the alliance’s weapons there, a demand that NATO has rejected.

None of the four suspects has appeared at trial. Only one, Oleg Pulatov, has Dutch lawyers representing him in court.

Pulatov’s lawyers say he denies his involvement. He is one of three Russian suspects along with Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy. They are charged together with the Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

The trial began in March last year with the solemn reading of the names of all the people who died when the plane shattered in midair and hit the ground in agricultural fields in conflict-ravaged eastern Ukraine.

An international investigation into the accident concluded that MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile that was trucked to Ukraine from a Russian military base.

Investigators say the missile launcher later returned to Russia, but Moscow denies any involvement.

On Wednesday, prosecutors will tell judges what punishments they want for the four suspects, with the maximum penalty being life in prison.

The hearing will then be postponed until March, when Pulatov’s defense attorneys will make their presentation to the judges.

Both parties can provide final responses and statements during the summer and verdicts are expected before the end of next year.

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