The Netherlands has rejected an offer by Moscow to prosecute three Russian men suspected of involvement in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a disaster that cost the lives of nearly 300 people.
Dutch Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus said on February 12 that Moscow had sent a letter in October 2019 in which it asked whether the Netherlands would consider transferring the criminal prosecution of three suspects to Moscow.
"The Justice and Security Ministry replied that the transfer of criminal proceedings against the three Russian suspects by the Dutch authorities is not an option and has not been taken into consideration," Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament.
The trial of the men "is an important step in finding the truth and justice for all 298 victims of flight MH17 and their relatives," Grapperhaus said.
"The government has full confidence in the independence and quality of Dutch justice."
The three Russian nationals and a fourth suspect, a Ukrainian citizen, are believed to be residing in Russia.
The Netherlands is leading an international investigation into MH17 being shot down on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board. About two-thirds of the victims were Dutch nationals.
The Boeing 777 passenger jet was flying over territory held by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine after departing Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a sophisticated Russian-made BUK missile, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) concluded.
The JIT in 2016 announced that the Buk missile system used in the attack came from Russia and then in May 2018 concluded that Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade had transported the Buk in 2014 to and from Ukraine.
Russia denies involvement in the incident.
Moscow seized control of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and has supported the separatists who control parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a war that has killed some 13,000 people since April of that year. The passenger flight was downed in the conflict zone over nongovernment-controlled territory.
The first hearing in the case has been set for March 9 at a high-security courthouse near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
If the matter goes to trial, the suspects -- Russian citizens Igor Girkin, Oleg Pulatov, and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko -- could be tried in absentia under Dutch law.
It is unlikely that any of the men will be present at the trial as neither Russia nor Ukraine allows its citizens to be extradited.
Another suspect, Volodymyr Tsemakh, was among 35 prisoners sent to Moscow from Kyiv in the September 7 swap of 70 people captured during fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The JIT had pleaded with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to keep Tsemakh in Ukrainian custody, but Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly insisted that Tsemakh be included in the exchange or the swap would be called off.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters