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Dutch Prosecutors Accuse Moscow Of Letting MH17 Suspect Flee

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MH17 suspect Volodymyr Tsemakh sits in a courtroom in Kyiv on September 5.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) has accused Russia of allowing a suspect to evade its investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by not arresting him and letting him return to separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow "willingly allowed" the suspect, Ukrainian national Volodymyr Tsemakh, to leave Russia "and refused to execute" a Dutch extradition request, the OM said in a December 2 news release.

By doing so, the OM said Moscow acted in contravention of the European Convention on Extradition to which Russia is a party as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights body.

"The Russian Federation does not extradite its own citizens but since Mr. Tsemakh is a Ukrainian citizen, there were not impediments for his extradition," the OM said.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on December 3 that the Kremlin had "no relation" to the case and thus, "I can't say anything here."

On September 7, Ukraine handed over Tsemakh to Russian authorities as part of a prisoner exchange involving 70 captives.

He was the former commander of an air-defense unit of the Russia-backed forces fighting in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine at the time of the downing of MH17.

All 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 passenger jet were killed when a sophisticated Russian-made missile struck it on July 17, 2014, a Dutch-led investigative team has concluded.

While Tsemakh's exact role in the attack remains unclear, he boasted to a separatist news agency in a 2015 video report about how he helped hide the Buk missile system that was transported to and from Ukraine by a Russian antiaircraft missile brigade and which was used to shoot down the airliner.

A Ukrainian special-forces team apprehended Tsemakh on June 27 at his home in the part of the Donetsk region that Kyiv doesn't control.

Before Tsemakh's release to Russia, Dutch prosecutors had questioned him in Kyiv and asked Moscow to arrest Tsemakh on the grounds that he was a possible flight risk.

Later in September, according to the OM, Russia said it was considering the extradition request.

However, on November 19, the OM received notification from the Russian authorities that Tsemakh's whereabouts was unknown, so the extradition request couldn’t be fulfilled.

His daughter, Maria Levchenko-Tsemakh, said in September that her father had returned to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, according to an interview she gave to Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America.

The Netherlands on March 9 is scheduled to go ahead with prosecuting four MH17 suspects in absentia.

A trial will be held for Russian citizens Igor Girkin, Oleg Pulatov, Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko.

All four are believed to be residing in Russia.

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