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Dutch Court Rejects Request To Investigate Alternative MH17 Crash Scenarios

Russia-backed separatist fighters walk past a memorial to victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash outside the village of Hrabove in eastern Ukraine.
Russia-backed separatist fighters walk past a memorial to victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash outside the village of Hrabove in eastern Ukraine.

A court in the Netherlands hearing the case against four defendants in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine has rejected a defense request for more time to investigate alternative explanations for the crash that killed 298 people aboard.

MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine. Nearly two-thirds of the victims were Dutch nationals.

Following a six-year international investigation, prosecutors argued that the aircraft was shot down by separatist fighters who had acquired it from a Russian military base on the border between the two countries.

The findings have been corroborated or supported by evidence gathered by journalists and independent investigators, such as the British-based group Bellingcat.

The four suspects -- Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko -- are being tried in absentia by court in The Hague for involvement in the tragedy.

Only one of the suspects, Pulatov, is represented by his lawyers at the trial.

The relatives of at least 65 Dutch victims in 2018 filed a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Moscow has denied any involvement in the conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine and has offered several possible theories about how MH17 was blown out of the sky, including that it was shot down by a Ukrainian Air Force jet or by Ukrainian ground forces using a Buk system.

The tragedy caused an international outcry and deepened tensions between Moscow and the West following Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for the militants in their fight against Kyiv's forces after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said on November 25 that the defense had not provided a clear alternative scenario to investigate.

Steenhuis said the court would like to hear from Pulatov in person, and would not submit written questions to him, as his lawyers had requested.

He added the court would also like to hear from the other suspects, who have never cooperated with the court.

The court also called for another round of questioning of witnesses who reported seeing the missile launcher on July 17, 2014, as well as the owner of the field from which the missile is believed to have been launched.

Judges also ruled that a new effort should be made to speak to the leader of Russia's 53rd Brigade, which has been identified by investigators as having transported the missile launcher.

The judge adjourned the case until February 1, 2021.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and TASS
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