Prosecutors Slam Bid for New Probe in Dutch Plane Crash Trial

The Hague District Court judges preside over the MH17 trial near Amsterdam on June 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Robin van Lonkhuijsen, Pool, File)

AMSTERDAM (CN) — Requests from defense attorneys for further investigation into the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine are out of line, the prosecution said Friday during a trial in the Netherlands. 

Two lawyers from the Dutch prosecutor’s office spent most of the day pushing back on a litany of demands from lawyers for Russian ex-lieutenant colonel Oleg Pulatov, one of four men charged with shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, or MH17, in 2014. 

Pulatov’s lawyers spent most of Monday and Tuesday asking the court to re-interview nearly every witness in the case and obtain further evidence, including pushing the United States to turn over potentially relevant satellite data. 

“If the defense has a particular suspicion about a particular phone intercept, or metadata, or quality of translation, they are free to address it specifically, but asking for bulk re-investigation and delivery of bulk data is a fishing expedition,” said Thijs Berger, a member of the three-person prosecution team.

The Joint Investigation Team, the five-country team led by the Netherlands that investigated what happened to the passenger jet over eastern Ukraine, concluded the Boeing 737 was shot down by a Buk-TELAR missile from a separatist-controlled area. 

The defense has been pushing three alternative scenarios: it was the Ukrainian military who used the surface-to-air missile to shoot down the plane, it was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet or the Ukrainian government used the plane as a human shield. 

“Pulatov seems to be under the impression that because he was indicted, he is an equal partner in the investigation,” Ward Ferdinandusse, another prosecutor, said Friday.

The Dutch legal system is an inquisitorial system, where the court is involved in the investigation of the crime. 

The other three defendants – two other Russian men, Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, and one Ukrainian man, Leonid Kharchenko – are being tried in absentia for 298 counts of murder before The Hague District Court. 

The prosecution did have words for the defendant himself: “If you can’t afford your defense, tell us and we’d like to help. But you have to be clear. You can’t come up with different stories simply to justify delay,” said Ferdinandusse. 

There is some speculation that the defense’s extensive lists of requests are an attempt to drag the case on for years. The full trial is scheduled to last through most of 2021. 

Some of the arguments made by the defense earlier in the week were roundly disregarded. For example, Pulatov’s lawyers argued that Ukraine had fighter jets capable of shooting down MH17 and included a photo of one such jet. That turned out to be a decommissioned plane in a museum near the capital Kyiv.

At the end of the afternoon Friday, the defense had an opportunity to reply. Lawyer Sabine ten Doesschate told the court she was “not happy” with the characterization that the defense was going on a fishing expedition.

“We do not understand how the prosecution can consider the investigation to be complete in light of questions such as these,” she said. 

Hearings will resume next week when the three-judge panel is planning to rule on all of the requests. 

The Netherlands has taken on the prosecution in part because a majority of the victims were Dutch. Proceedings are being held in the high-security Schiphol Judicial Complex near the airport in Amsterdam. 

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