By Abdullah Asiran
NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (AA) – A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) announced Wednesday that three Russians and one Ukrainian suspect will face trial over shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 nearly five years ago killing 298 people.
On July 17, 2014, MH17 flight departed from Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, however, it was shot before crashing near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, about 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) away from the Russian border.
The suspects — who have close ties to the Russian armed forces — are Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin of Russia, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukranian, are charged with causing the crash of the passenger airliner and killing all passengers and crew aboard, a Dutch chief public prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said in a news conference in Nieuwegein, Netherlands.
"In the 17th of July 2014 all four suspects were in eastern Ukraine, they played a crucial part in the armed conflict and they had important positions," Westerbeke said.
Eastern Ukraine has been wracked by conflict since March 2014 after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists living in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence in a move not recognized by the international community, including Turkey.
Westerbeke said that the suspects will also be placed on national and international wanted lists, adding that their trial would begin in the Netherlands on March 9, 2020.
"Even though they have not pushed the button themselves, there is a suspicion that they have closely cooperated in obtaining" the missile launcher that shot down the plane, Westerbeke said, adding that "therefore, they can be considered to be suspects together of shooting the flight MH17".
He also stressed that according the Dutch criminal law, the persons who were not present themselves during the implementation of a crime but do play an important organizing role are just as punishable as the persons who have actually committed the crime.
“The possibility exists the suspects wanted to shoot a military airplane instead of a passenger flight. Even if that was the original plan, we do hold them responsible for the downing MH17,” he said.
The prosecutor said that they will formally request Russian and Ukrainian authorities to issue summonses for the suspects who are in those countries, and ask authorities to question the suspects about the charges.
Westerbeke ruled out any extradition requests for the suspects as the Russian and Ukrainian constitution prohibits extraditing nationals.
However, he said, more people are responsible for the incident and the investigation will continue to find them.
The Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine are part of the special investigation team.
A total of 298 people, including 15 crew members, were killed in the crash.
The JIT earlier claimed that a BUK TELAR missile was used to down the MH17.
According to the JIT report, the missile originated from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade — a unit of the Russian army in Kursk in the Russian Federation.
* Writing and contribution by Jeyhun Aliyev from Ankara