Wrakstuk MH17 zonnebloemenveld

The criminal investigation by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT)

In the MH17 Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine work together on the criminal investigation into the plane crash. Based on the results of that investigation, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service has prosecuted four suspects for their involvement in bringing down flight MH17. Three of them were sentenced to life imprisonment, Pulatov was aquitted. In the meantime, the JIT investigation into other persons involved continued. On 8 February 2023 the JIT shared its findings with the next of kin and published a report. Although a lot of new information has been discovered about various people involved, the evidence is at the moment not concrete enough to lead to new prosecutions.

What happened to flight MH17?

According to the JIT, flight MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile from the 9M38 series. The missile was launched by a Buk TELAR installation that was transported from the Russian Federation to an farm field near Pervomaiskyi in Eastern Ukraine. At that time, that area was controlled by the separatists. After firing, the installation was transported back to the Russian Federation with a missing missile.

In order to find out the cause of the crash, the Joint Investigation Team investigated all human remains, personal belongings and wreckage of the aircraft found in the vicinity of the disaster site. The traces were secured and investigated and compared by experts. In addition, the JIT sought and heard witnesses and experts, analysed radar and satellite images, assessed large amounts of telecom data such as intercepted telephone conversations and analysed big data.

Who can be held accountable for bringing down flight MH17?

In addition to the cause of the crash, the JIT investigates who was involved in the downing of flight MH17 and what their intentions were. According to the JIT, the Buk TELAR used to shoot down MH17 originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces from Kursk in the Russian Federation. This is the result of the extensive comparative investigation of the JIT.

On the basis of this investigation, the OM announced on 19 June 2019 that it will prosecute four suspects. On 9 March 2020, at the first court session of the MH17 trial, the public prosecutor announced the charges against the suspects. Prosecutors said they hold them jointly accountable for downing flight MH17. However, one of them, Pulatov, was found not guilty and acquitted. Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko were found guilty. On 17 November 2022 the district Court of The Hague sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The JIT investigation into other persons involved

The Joint Investigation Team thinks that in addition to the suspects that were prosecuted, more people were involved in downing flight MH17. For example, the team is still looking for information about the crew of the Buk TELAR and about those ordering the deployment of this weapon. To obtain more information, the JIT has made several witness calls. These have always resulted in more witnesses to come forward.

The latest call for witnesses is aimed at persons within the administrative and military hierarchy. The indications for close ties between the leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Russian government officials raises questions about their involvement in the deployment of the Buk TELAR. These indications for possible ties are supported by a series of recorded conversations between DPR leaders and high-ranking Russian government officials held in the summer of 2014. The JIT made a number of these intercepted phone calls public and asked questions about them.

On September 2, 2021, the JIT made a final information call. This call is mainly aimed at residents of the Russian city of Kursk, the origin of the brigade that, according to the JIT, delivered the Buk TELAR that shot down MH17. Russian soldiers who know more about the shooting are called on to share information.

JIT: joint investigation objective

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is formed when countries share a common investigation goal. A JIT was set up on 7 August 2014 for the criminal investigation into the MH17 disaster.

In the MH17 JIT, police and judicial authorities of the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia and Belgium work together with Ukraine, where the crash took place. The goal is:

• to determine who is responsible for the downing of flight MH17;

• to collect evidence for the criminal prosecution of the perpetrators.

The rules for a joint criminal investigation

The results of the criminal investigation must meet the standards that we set for an investigation in the Netherlands. This also applies to the other participating countries. This means that the JIT has agreed upon the rules and how the evidence shoudl be collected in other countries. The cooperation in the JIT has made it possible for Dutch and Australian police officers to work on Ukrainian territory, together with Ukrainian investigating officers.

The position of Ukraine in the JIT

Right from the start, the position of Ukraine in the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been discussed with the Ukrainian authorities. After all, Ukraine itself is a party in the armed conflict in which flight MH17 was shot down. To guarantee the independence of the investigation, agreements have been made. First of all, the investigation is conducted jointly. In addition, other members of the investigation team also constantly validate the evidence and the results of the investigation so that these cannot be questioned on a international level. A team of Australian and Dutch investigators was, until February 2022, permanently present in Ukraine, in the so-called Field Office. 

For the transcript and the video of the press conference of 8 February 2023, see here