Saturday, March 6, 2021

Judges nix bid to probe wider theory in MH17 trial

Defence lawyers had asked judges to allow the examination of other possibilities, including the idea that a Ukrainian fighter jet was to blame.

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The case of a Russian suspect on trial for the downing of flight MH17 suffered a setback Wednesday after judges slapped down a request to probe alternative theories on how the jet was brought down.

Prosecutors in the trial in the Netherlands say the Malaysia Airlines plane, which was shot down in 2014 killing all 298 people on board, was hit by an air-to-ground missile fired from territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.

However, in June, defence lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only one of four suspects on trial to have legal representation, asked judges to allow the examination of other possibilities, including the idea that a Ukrainian fighter jet was to blame.

But judge Hendrik Steenhuis denied the request, saying it was “up to the prosecution to prove the main scenario”.

“If the prosecution cannot prove the main scenario, the accused will be acquitted anyway,” Steenhuis told a hearing at a highly-secure courthouse near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, from where the ill-fated flight MH17 took off.

“The relevance of alternative scenarios is therefore small,” Steenhuis said.

Steenhuis also declined Pulatov’s offer to answer judges’ questions in writing, saying he “is invited to be present at the hearing and to answer his questions in an open court”.

The three-judge bench did however allow a number of Pulatov’s requests, including that the commander of Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade in Kursk – where prosecutors say the missile came from – be interviewed.

Russia previously declined an appeal by prosecutors for a similar interview.

Judges said Pulatov could also question his commander and fellow accused, Sergei Dubinsky, about Pulatov’s involvement in tapped phone calls, which formed a large part of the prosecution’s case against him.

Steenhuis then postponed the hearing to Feb 1, 2021 when the case proper is expected to start.

Four suspects – Russian nationals Pulatov, Dubinsky and Igor Girkin and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko – are all accused of being key figures among the separatist rebels battling Kiev.

Pulatov was an ex-Russian special forces soldier and one of Dubinsky’s deputies who allegedly helped transport the missile system to Ukraine from its base in Russia.

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