By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
AMSTERDAM (Worthy News) – A Dutch court has found three suspects guilty of downing Malaysia Airlines Boeing flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine eight years ago and sentenced them to life imprisonment, prompting anger in Russia.
The tragedy on June 17, 2014, killed all 298 people on board, most of them Dutch citizens, as well as scores of nationals from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
The Hague District Court sentenced former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader in absentia.
All three were also ordered to pay at least 16 million euros ($16.5 million) to the victims’ relatives. A fourth suspect, Russian national Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted due to a lack of evidence, the court said.
None of the accused attended the trial in the Netherlands, and it was unlikely that Russia would extradite the men soon.
But trial observers suggested that Thursday’s verdict would further isolate those found guilty as they could face arrest when traveling abroad.
Family members of people killed in the disaster gathered to hear the verdict at the high-security courtroom at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where The Hague District Court sat.
They heard the Dutch court also said that Russia had “overall control” of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine when the plane was shot down.
Moscow rejected the verdict as a “politically motivated” outcome. Russia’s foreign ministry said the court had been under unprecedented pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors, and the media to impose a verdict.
“The trial in the Netherlands has every chance of becoming one of the most scandalous in the history of legal proceedings,” it said in a statement about the eight-year investigation.
Moscow has repeatedly denied responsibility for the downing of the jet.
Separately, a top Russian politician told the Tass news agency that Moscow would not be deporting Girkin and Dubinsky.
Andrei Klishas, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, argued that the court’s decision would not have any legal consequences.
The Russian foreign ministry said prosecutors ignored “all evidence” indicating that Ukrainian troops could have launched the BUK missile from territory controlled by Kyiv.
“We deeply regret that the District Court in The Hague disregarded the principles of impartial justice in favor of the current political situation,” it said
Yet to those who lost loved ones in the deadliest airliner-shoot down in aviation history, the ruling meant justice had been done, suggested Piet Ploeg, the chair of Stichting Vliegramp (Air Disaster Foundation).
“I am glad that this ruling has been made,” said Ploeg, who lost his brother, sister-in-law, and cousin in the tragedy.
“If you look at the broad picture: three life sentences and the role of Russia is confirmed. What else do you want?” the Dutchman added.
He is among the survivors who attended the annual commemorations at the MH17 memorial and park on the outskirts of Schiphol airport, with 298 trees planted to remember each victim.
While emotional wounds of the tragedy may never heal, Ploeg said he respected the court’s decision not to sentence one of the suspects, citing a lack of evidence. “We have always had every confidence in the court. It has been carefully considered that there is insufficient evidence to sentence Oleg Pulatov. Who am I to pass judgment on that?”
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