Prosecution and trial
The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service has prosecuted four defendants for bringing down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July 2014. The District Court of The Hague handled the criminal case at the Schiphol Judicial Complex (JCS). On March 9, 2020, the trial began with a series of preliminary hearings. In it, the Public Prosecution Service gave a detailed overview of the investigation and responded to the investigation wishes of the defence. The pre-trial phase was completed on November 25, 2020. The preparatory sessions that followed were focused on the latest developments and the investigation still to be carried out.
On June 7, 2021, the substantive hearing of the cases against the four defendants started. The right to speak took place in September and November 2021, in which more than a hundred relatives of the victims spoke. Just before Christmas 2021, the Public Prosecution Service held the closing arguments, in which it explained the evidence in this case. On December 22, 2021, the publict prosecutors demanded life sentences against the four defendants. The defense of suspect Pulatov made her plea in March 2022. After some more court sessions of both prosecution and defense the trial ended at 10 June 2022. The court delivered the verdict on 17 November 2022. Three defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Pulatov was acquitted.
Who are the suspects accused of bringing down MH17?
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service prosecutes the following persons:
- Igor Vsevolodovich GIRKIN (17-12-1970)
Igor Girkin also known as Strelkov or Perviy, is a former colonel of the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service. On the 17th of July 2014, Girkin was Minister of Defence and commander of the army of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Flight MH17 was shot down from this area. As the highest military officer he maintained contact with the Russian Federation.
Girkin was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
- Sergey Nikolayevich DUBINSKIY (09-08-1962)
Sergey Dubinskiy, nicknamed Khmuriy, is a former military officer of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. Dubinskiy was one of Girkin’s deputies in 2014 and also head of the intelligence service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. He also maintained regular contact with officials in Russia.
Dubinskiy was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
- Oleg Yuldashevich PULATOV (24-07-1966)
Oleg Pulatov, also known as Giurza, is a former military officer of the Russian Spetznaz-GRU, the special units of the Russian military intelligence service. In 2014, Pulatov was deputy head of the intelligence service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and one of the deputies of Dubinskiy.
Pulatov was found not guilty and acquitted.
- Leonid Volodymyrovych KHARCHENKO (10-01-1972)
Leonid Kharchenko, also known as Krot, is the only Ukrainian suspect. He has no military background. He received his orders directly from Dubinskiy and in July 2014 he was commander of a combat unit in the Donetsk region. At that time, there was an armed conflict in that area between pro-Russian fighters and the Ukrainian armed forces.
Kharchenko was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
What are the charges brought against the suspects by the OM?
At the first session of the MH17-trial the public prosecutor announced the charges against the suspects. The Public Prosecution Service (OM) alleges the four suspects cooperated closely to obtain and deploy the BUK TELAR at the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft. For that reason they can be held jointly accountable for downing flight MH17, prosecutors said.
They are prosecuted for:
- causing the crash of flight MH17, resulting in the death of all persons on board, punishable pursuant to Article 168 of the Dutch Criminal Code;
- the murder of the 298 persons on board of flight MH17, punishable pursuant to Article 289 of the Dutch Criminal Code.
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service summoned the four suspects to appear in court, in order to account for their role in bringing down flight MH17 in court. Read the complete charges in the anonimyzed summons.
Extradition not possible
Three of the suspects have Russian nationality, the fourth is Ukrainian. As the constitutions of Russia and Ukraine do not allow extradition of nationals, extradition of the suspects will not be requested.
The Public Prosecution Service issued international arrest warrants for the suspects and placed them on national and international Lists of Wanted Persons. This is why the full names of the suspects have been announced and their photos were shown. When Pulatov was acquitted he was removed of the lists. The other three remain internationally listed.
Dutch criminal case with an international twist
The MH17 criminal proceedings took place in the Netherlands according to The Dutch Code of Criminal Procedure. In order to be able to conduct the trial in the Netherlands, the Netherlands and Ukraine have signed an agreement for international legal cooperation. Furthermore, a separate provision has been laid down by law because of the international character of the trial. This allowed the court, for example, to allow certain parts of the criminal proceedings to be conducted in English, such as the exercise of the right to speak by foreign next of kin.
The rights of the next of kin in the MH17 trial
The rights of the next of kin are laid down by Dutch law. In the MH17 case there is a large number of affected families. Moreover, they live all over the world. The court ultimately decided how the next of kin are able to exercise their rights, as was done in September and November 2021. The Public Prosecution Service, together with the police and Victim Support Netherlands, advised the court on this.
Hearings in the MH17 trial at the Schiphol Judicial Complex
A large number of (international) next of kin wanted to attend the hearings and there was worldwide media interest in the criminal proceedings. For that reason, the District Court of The Hague conducted the hearings at the Schiphol Judicial Complex (JCS), because there is more space. The District Court of The Hague provided a live stream of the sessions.