Russian suspect seeks acquittal in Dutch MH17 trial

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Russian suspect in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine appealed in a video statement to a Dutch court on Friday to be declared innocent, as judges adjourned the trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian separatist rebel and began months of deliberations.

“I hope and expect a fair and legally based judgment,” Oleg Pulatov told the panel of judges. “Please acquit me.”

He spoke in a recorded video message because he – along with his three other suspects – did not appear in court to stand trial.

Prosecutors say Pulatov was deputy intelligence chief of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine when the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Buk missile on July 17 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. .

As 67 days of hearings spanning more than two years drew to a close, presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the earliest date the court could issue verdicts in the complex case was November 17.

The trial began on March 9, 2020, as the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that served as the backdrop for the jetliner’s downing was still simmering. The hearing of evidence and legal arguments ended on Friday with Ukraine embroiled in a devastating war to repel the February 24 Russian invasion.

The marathon trial opened with prosecutors solemnly reading the names of the 298 people who died when the jetliner was blown out of the sky. The judges also heard the victims’ emotional statements from dozens of relatives of those killed.

On the last scheduled day of closing arguments before verdicts, Dutch defense lawyers for Pulatov repeated their claims that their client had not had a fair trial and was innocent.

The trial presented evidence that prosecutors say proves that the three Russians – Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy – as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were involved in the attack using a missile launcher Buk trucked to Ukraine from a Russian military base and then returned to base. Russia denies any involvement in the downing of the plane.

“What matters to me is that the truth comes out. It is important to me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy,” Pulatov said in his video message.

Lawyers for Pulatov had their final say at trial this week, accusing prosecutors of tunnel vision by focusing only on their theory that separatist rebels shot down MH17, failing to give the Russian a fair trial and failing to prove their accusation against him.

If found guilty of, among other things, participating in the murder of the 298 passengers and crew, Pulatov faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, although he is very unlikely to serve a prison sentence because Russia will not extradite him.

Pulatov was the only suspect to present a defense at trial. He said his lawyers had shown “that the evidence presented by the prosecution is unconvincing and in some respects unreliable, based on speculation and is generally insufficient to support a judgment”.

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Post expires at 8:22am on Wednesday June 22nd, 2022

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