AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (CN) — One of the four men charged with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 wants to address the court, his lawyers announced Monday.
Ex-Russian military commander Oleg Pulatov, who has been charged with 298 counts of murder before a Dutch criminal court, denied shooting down the passenger airline in 2014 but says he saw the consequences of the tragedy.
“Our client does not know what did indeed happen,” Sabine ten Doesschate told The Hague District Court, located in a special high-security courthouse near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where MH17 departed for Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine, which was annexed by Russia months before the tragedy.
The trial, which started in March and is still in the preliminary phase, was adjourned at the end of August to allow the defense time to travel to Russia to see their client. Pulatov’s legal team complained that Covid-19 travel restrictions had prevented them from working with their client, something they felt needed to be done face-to-face out of concerns over security. The other three men charged — Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Leonid Kharchenko — are being tried in absentia.
Presiding Judge Henrik Steenhuis said he was “unpleasantly surprised” to learn that the defense would not be able to complete their investigation requests until November. The Dutch legal system is an inquisitorial system where the court is involved in the investigation of the crime, as opposed to the adversarial system in the United States where two sides present competing evidence before an impartial judge or jury.
Ward Ferdinandusse, one of the three public prosecutors involved in the case, also expressed frustration with the defense. “We cannot continue to go on and on in this way,” he told the court. Many have accused Pulatov’s lawyers of dragging out the trial, which is already scheduled to take more than a year, at the behest of the Russian government.
Moscow has denied any involvement in the shooting down of the plane but has engaged in a misinformation campaign, accusing the Ukrainian military of shooting down the jet. The 10 countries with citizens on board tried to create an international tribunal but that was blocked by Russia at the United Nations. The Netherlands is hosting the trial, in part, because two-thirds of the victims were Dutch.
The Netherlands is also pursuing legal action directly against Russia over the tragedy. It filed an intra-state complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in July.
At the end of the afternoon, Steenhuis — separated from his colleagues by plexiglass barriers as prevention against Covid-19 transmission — announced the three-judge-panel would allow the defense to make their requests in November. He assured the court that it would be possible to move forward with a trial on the merits early next year, as scheduled.
The final session of preliminary hearings will resume Nov. 3.