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Missile supply used to down MH17 jet got Putin approval, investigators say 

All 298 people on board were killed when Russian-backed separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew over eastern Ukraine in 2014. 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — An international investigation team looking into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 says they have evidence showing “strong indications” that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off personally on the transport of the weapon used to bring down the passenger jet. 

The Joint Investigation Team announced in a press conference on Wednesday that they had finalized their investigation and that Putin’s immunity as a head of state would keep him from being prosecuted for the tragedy, despite evidence linking him to the 2014 disaster that killed 298 people.

“After 8.5 years the JIT has exhausted all avenues for investigation,” Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer told reporters. 

The news comes months after the Netherlands convicted three men who supplied the BUK missile that shot down the Boeing 777 from the sky as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. A fourth man was acquitted. The men were tried in absentia and none are in Dutch custody. 

Much of the evidence used in the trial came from the JIT, a five-country joint investigation team led by the Netherlands, which concluded that a Russian military bridge transported the surface-to-air missile across the border into Ukraine just days before the disaster. Moscow has denied any involvement.

Although the team can now connect several Russian military officials to the tragedy, most of the evidence is circumstantial, frustrating speculation ahead of the press conference that the JIT might announce the names of new suspects. “There are either formal obstacles to prosecution, or the necessary lawful and convincing evidence is lacking,” van Boetzelaer said. 

The connection to Putin came from a series of intercepted phones between senior Russian government officials. In one call played during the press conference, a defense official say, “There is only one who makes a decision [to send heavier weaponry to separatists in Ukraine], the person who is at a summit in France.” At the time, the Russian leader was in France on a visit to commemorate D-Day. 

Although it seems unlikely any more defendants will be tried in the Netherlands, the new evidence will likely aid other legal proceedings over the disaster. The European Court of Human Rights announced in January that it will move forward with a complaint brought by the Netherlands and Ukraine over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including the downing of MH17. The two countries argue that Moscow had “effective control” of the Donbas region of Ukraine at the time.  

Together with Australia — which also lost a number of citizens in the crash — the Netherlands has also brought proceedings before the United Nations' aviation organization the International Civil Aviation Organization over Russia’s liability for the disaster. 

Piet Ploeg, whose brother, sister-in-law and nephew were all killed in the crash, expressed disappointment in the announcement. "We can't do a lot with it; Putin can't be prosecuted,” Ploeg told reporters. 

Last week, the Europen Union announced it will back a center hosted by Eurojust — the EU organization that coordinates criminal matters between countries — to collect evidence concerning the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The International Criminal Court has started its own investigations into possible war crimes that have taken place during the conflict. 

Months before the tragedy, Ukrainians overthrew the country’s pro-Russian government. Moscow responded with the annexation of Crimea, a peninsula extending from Ukraine’s southern coast, and Russian-backed separatists declared independence in several areas along the border. 

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