Judges hearing the case against four suspects in the 2014 downing of a passenger airliner over eastern Ukraine have granted a defense request to investigate alternative theories about the incident.
On July 3, the court in The Hague in the Netherlands ordered that defense lawyers and experts be granted access to the partial wreckage of the plane, which is being held at a Dutch military base.
The suspects -- Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko -- are being tried in absentia for involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which killed all 298 people on board.
Following a six-year international investigation, prosecutors have argued that the aircraft was shot down by a Russian-made Buk antiaircraft system fired by Russia-backed separatist fighters who had acquired it from a Russian military base on the border between the two countries.
Pulatov is the only defendant who has sent defense lawyers, while the other three men are being tried without representation.
Moscow has denied any involvement in the conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine and has offered several possible theories about how MH17 was shot down, including that it was shot down by a Ukrainian Air Force jet or by Ukrainian ground forces using a Buk system. The international investigative team considered and rejected these explanations.
Nonetheless, the court granted a defense request to investigate other scenarios, including the possibility that the airliner was being used as a shield for a military aircraft.
"The defense has an interest in being able to test the scenario chosen by the Public Prosecution Service in the indictment that MH17 was shot down by a BUK," Judge Henrik Steenhuis said.
Steenhuis said the defense experts would be allowed to submit a report on their findings.
The court also adjourned the trial until August 31 to give Pulatov’s lawyers a chance to meet with him.
His lawyers say they have been unable to travel to Russia, where Pulatov resides, because of restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.