MH17: Investigators name four suspects in downing of plane, three Russian nationals, one Ukrainian
Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad questioned the objectivity of the investigations into the downing of the MH17 flight in 2014 on Thursday and said that Russia was being made a scapegoat for the tragedy.
Three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian citizen will face murder charges for the deaths of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, an international team of investigators announced on Wednesday.
"We are very unhappy, because from the very beginning it was a political issue on how to accuse Russia of the wrongdoing," Mahathir told reporters at a government event on Thursday. "Even before they examine, they already said Russia. And now they said they have proof. It is very difficult for us to accept that."
Russia has been criticised by the international investigation team for refusing to cooperate with the criminal proceedings that implicated them in the 2014 downing of a plane carrying civilians.
The Dutch-led group of international investigators who formed to examine the disaster named the Russian suspects as Igor Vsevolodovich, Sergey Nikolayevich and Oleg Pulatov. The Ukrainian national has been named as Leonid Kharchenko.
International arrests warrants for the four had been issued.
The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in proceedings set to start next March.
All of these were in eastern Ukraine on the night of the attack, said the spokesman for the investigators, who are from The Netherlands, where most of the victims of the incident were from.
"These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians," Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.
"Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an aeroplane."
The Netherlands has further said that Russia has not cooperated with their investigation procedures, and do not expect them to hand over any of the charged.
Moscow said it does not trust the international investigation.
"Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing interest right from the start and trying to join it," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday.
While the Netherlands and Australia have long held Russia responsible for the shooting, Putin has said that although the incident was a "terrible tragedy" Moscow was not to blame.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday that "we now have the proof that the Russian Federation is involved in some way in the crime...I'm sure they know what happened...They know this and they didn't give us the information."
What was MH17?
The term MH17 refers to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine in July 2014. All 298 people on board were killed. 196 of those killed were Dutch nationals.
The territory over which the aircraft was attacked was held by pro-Russian separatists in an ongoing conflict between Ukranian forces and the Russian-backed separatist groups.
In 2016, it was revealed by an investigation team that the plane was shot by a Russian made Cold War rocket launcher. The missile, prosecutors confirmed today, was returned to the Russian organisation after the attack.
The investigation team was formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine following the shooting in 2014.
The process was carried out by a team of experts who helped the international group reach their conclusion. Who these experts are and what evidence led them to accuse the four suspects however has not yet been released.
The prosecution will be carried out 9 March 2020 under Dutch law. The investigation team expressly appealed to the suspects to make themselves present for the criminal trial however reminded the public that the trial will take place even if the suspects are absent.
"I don't think the odds are on our side" that suspects will attend, said the prosecution team. They believe however that the process of prosecution will nonetheless be a relief for the families of victims.
For us and everyone who has been involved "today is a day that can never be forgotten" said the prosecutors on Wednesday. The group looked back to their promise following the shooting to do their utmost to ensure justice was served and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
The investigation continues
The group confirmed that although four suspects were identified today, the investigation is not over.
Prosecutors suspect that a further four people operated the buk missile system which shot down MH17. The investigative team will also target the chain of people responsible for the attack.
"Many people played a part" in the shooting down of MH17, said the prosecutors.
In order to gain "maximum clarity about the entire chain of responsible parties," the call for witnesses will continue.
New witnesses are still coming forward with insights in the case today.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement that he hoped to see the four men stand trial.
"Ukraine welcomes the conclusions of the Joint Investigation Team on MH17. The President of Ukraine hopes that ... those who are guilty of this brazen murder of innocent children, woman and men, will be put in the dock," he added.
NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the announcement, describing it as "an important milestone in efforts to uncover the truth and ensure that justice is done."
Britain's Foreign Minister, Jeremy Hunt, said Russia "must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2166."