Opening statements are set to soon be heard in the murder trial of four suspects over the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine.
The judges overseeing the trial have now officially viewed the wreckage of the downed airliner in the Netherlands, two weeks before prosecutors are due to present their case in court, along with lawyers, prosecutors, and the families of the victims.
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, the majority of whom were Dutch nationals.
Four men – three Russian and one Ukrainian – have been charged for their alleged involvement, following a six-year investigation into the tragedy, and will stand trial for murder in the District Court of the Hague, in the Netherlands.
The remains of the downed 777 aircraft were recovered from the crash site in Ukraine and reconstructed in a hangar at the Gilze-Rijen air base in the Netherlands.
A lawyer representing the families of the victims noted the importance of showing the court a first-hand understanding of the extensive damage caused to the aircraft.
“We cannot get closer to the death of the 298 victims than this,” she said.
Preliminary hearings for the trial began in March 2020, however proceedings have been delayed due to procedural issues.
All four defendants remain currently at large. Three of the four are being tried in absentia, with only one – Oleg Pulatov – having appointed a lawyer to defend him.
In a preliminary hearing in September 2020, Russian-born Pulatov, through his lawyer, denied any involvement in the incident. None of the other three defendants have attended or been represented at hearings to date.
According to his lawyer, Pulatov would be willing to personally testify to his innocence 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 police custody.
The trial is due to officially begin with opening statements on 7 June 2021.