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Key suspect in downing of MH17 denies any involvement in front of international court

written by Hannah Dowling | September 29, 2020

Panel of judges at the District Court of The Hague

One of the four suspects currently on trial in The Hague for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has denied any involvement in the planning or execution of the incident, according to his lawyer.

The man, Russian-born Oleg Pulatov, is one of four defendants currently on trial, following a six-year investigation into the tragedy that killed nearly 300 people.

On 17 July 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 jet, flight MH17, was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a missile that was allegedly fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels, in eastern Ukraine. 

All 298 people on board were killed.

None of the four defendants on trial were present in the Dutch courtroom at the preliminary hearing on Monday, nor are they currently in police custody.

Three of the defendants – two Russians and one Ukrainian – are being tried in absentia. However, Pulatov specifically requested his lawyer attend the preliminary hearing on his behalf to defend him.

“Our client has told us that he was not engaged in ordering, guarding, transporting and hiding of a Buk missile … instructing the crew thereof, firing or ordering to fire a Buk missile and/or downing MH17,” Pulatov’s lawyer, Sabine ten Doesschate, told The Hague District Court.

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“He did not contribute and he was not involved. What’s more, he did not and does not have any knowledge of how and why MH17 was downed.”

She added that her client has significant doubts about the prosecution’s scenario that MH17 was hit with a Russian-made Buk missile.

“Our client does not know what did indeed happen. What he does know is that he observed no Buk missile and that he and the ones under his command were not engaged in a Buk missile at or about July 17, 2014,” ten Doesschate said.

According to ten Doesschate, Pulatov would be willing to personally testify in the case, however the court would need to come to a reasonable agreement on how that could be made possible.

Pulatov is currently unable to leave Russia due to an international arrest warrant against him, and doing so would see him taken into pre-trial policy custody.

Monday’s court appearance was a preliminary hearing, and a date to officially move the case forward is yet to be set.

The defence requested to submit in writing new requests for investigations that can be discussed in court in November.

Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis said he was “unpleasantly surprised” by the delay — the defence investigation requests had been expected to be discussed at Monday’s hearing. 

He halted the hearing to discuss the next steps with his fellow judges, before adjourning the case until 3 November.

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