MH17: Trial opens of four accused of mass murder

MH17 victims will have the right to demand a tough sentence for the three Russians and a Ukrainian accused of murdering 298 people on the doomed jet, a court heard.

They will also be able to file compensation claims over their loss and will be allowed to give evidence in court, as the case began on Monday night (Australian time) in The Netherlands.

District Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the case would be painful for those who lost family members.

 

"For the next of kin this will be a very painful and emotional period, there are many victims and of course many next of kin," he said.

"Next of kin have the right to address the court on the impact of the loss of their loved ones. They will be able to take the floor here."

He added victims' families would be able to "address the sentence" the court should impose if the accused were found guilty.

People walk among the debris at the crash site of MH17 passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine, that killed 298 people killed. Picture: AP
People walk among the debris at the crash site of MH17 passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine, that killed 298 people killed. Picture: AP

Russians, Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko have been accused of mass murder for their role in the downing of MH17 in July 2014.

There were 38 Australians on-board the flight that left Amsterdam bound for Malaysia before it was shot down over disputed territory in Ukraine.

Pulatov was the only defendant who was represented in court on Monday night, with his lawyer confirming she was acting on his behalf.

He received a copy of the case against him in Russian. The three other accused did not turn up or acknowledge the case, with Girkin not being found at the address he supplied the court.

Skype messages and emails also failed to get a response.

Eliot Higgins, of online investigators Bellingcat, said the MH17 court case will hear details of links "very high in the Kremlin" who were supporting separatists in the area at the time.

"They are moving up the totem pole," Mr Higgins said.

The reconstructed cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane is displayed before a news conference by the Dutch Safety Board in Gilze-Rijen, Netherlands. Picture: AP
The reconstructed cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane is displayed before a news conference by the Dutch Safety Board in Gilze-Rijen, Netherlands. Picture: AP

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, rejected claims of Russian involvement.

"Unfortunately in this particular case I am 100 per cent sure that policy and politics is dominating," she told the BBC on Monday.

"We are actually trying and we were trying very hard to co-operate with all the countries which are involved in this case.

"For decades we were and are being accused of evil in our planet. It's not right, it's ridiculous, it's absolutely not right."

Australia has signed on to continue investigations into MH17, along with authorities from Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and The Netherlands.

A deal to extend the investigation was announced on Monday after members of the Joint Investigation Team visited the MH17 memorial for a wreath laying ceremony.

"The prolongation ensures the investigation into the downing of MH17 continues unabated and in parallel with the trial of the four suspects," the JIT said in a statement.

The four accused have been linked to Russian authorities, who have been blamed for supplying the Buk missile used to shoot down the jet.

The case, which is being heard at the Schiphol Judicial Complex in the shadows of the airport from where MH17 departed on its journey towards Malaysia, has been slated for 25 weeks of hearings.

A result could be four to five years away, according to lawyers with knowledge of the case.

There are no extradition treaties in place so it was unlikely that the accused will ever be jailed unless they hand themselves in.

stephen.drill@news.co.uk