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Prosecutors seek life sentences in Dutch murder trial over flight MH17

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By Reuters

By Stephanie van den Berg

Amsterdam -Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday demanded life sentences for three Russians and a Ukrainian charged with shooting down a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.

They said the defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that pro-Russian separatists used to fire a rocket at Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

“We demand that suspects (Igor) Girkin, (Sergey) Dubinsky, (Oleg) Pulatov and (Leonid) Kharchenko are convicted, each individually for the joint shooting down of an aircraft which caused death and the murder of 298 people on board, to life in prison,” prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks said.

The attack killed everyone on board, most of whom were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible. Authorities in Moscow deny involvement.

After years of collecting evidence, an international team of investigators concluded in May 2018 that the launcher used to shoot down the aircraft, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade .

Prosecutors said Wednesday that the evidence shows the men were linked to Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and played different but significant roles in the events that led to the downing of the jet.

Russians Pulatov, Dubinsky and Girkin and Ukrainian Kharchenko have all have denied involvement either in video messages or in media interviews shown in court.

Relying on satellite images, social media posts and intercepted phone calls, prosecutors say the four men worked together to get a Buk missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine to reinforce separatists.

In recordings played to the court earlier in the week, men identified by the prosecution as the suspects could be heard discussing moving “our Buk” to a field from where flight MH17 was attacked.

They then celebrated the success of “our boys” when they brought down what they mistakenly thought was a Ukrainian military plane.

The target turned out to be MH17.

Prosecutors argued that legally it made no difference that they intended to shoot a military plane.

“Even if the suspects did not intend the consequences of their actions those consequences still count for their sentencing,” Ridderbeks said.

Their trial started 20 months ago. Only Pulatov has sent lawyers to represent him while the others have not cooperated with the court and are being tried in absentia.

Closing arguments from Pulatov’s lawyers are expected in March and a verdict by the end of 2022.