MH17: Three men JAILED for their role in shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight

Lawyers attend the judges' inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage
Lawyers attend the judges' inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage

MH17, a passenger flight, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew

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Dutch judges have convicted three men of murder for their role in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, and sentenced them to life in prison.

A fourth man was acquitted.

MH17, a passenger flight, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

"Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives," Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said, reading a summary of the ruling.

Dutch judges have convicted three men of murder for their role in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Dutch judges have convicted three men of murder for their role in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

Families of victims stood weeping and wiping away tears in the courtroom as Steenhuis read the verdict.

The three men convicted were former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader.

A fourth, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted on all charges.

At the time, the area was the scene of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of this year's conflict.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February and claims to have annexed the Donetsk province where the plane's wreckage and victims' remains were once scattered across cornfields.

Steenhuis said the men did not enjoy any immunity from prosecution as they were not members of the Russian armed services.

"There is no reasonable doubt" that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile system, Steenhuis said.

Victims' representatives said the ruling is an important milestone, though the suspects remain fugitives. They are all believed to be in Russia, which will not extradite them.

Moscow denies any involvement or responsibility for MH17's downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine.

In a briefing in Moscow on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ivan Nechaev told reporters the government would examine the court's findings.

"We will study this decision because in all these issues, every nuance matters," he said.

The four men were charged with shooting down an airplane and with murder in a trial that was held under Dutch law.

Ria van der Steen, relative of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 crash
Ria van der Steen, relative of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 crash

Phone call intercepts that formed a key part of the evidence against the men suggested they believed they were targeting a Ukrainian fighter jet.

Of the suspects, only Pulatov had pleaded not guilty via lawyers he hired to represent him. The others were tried in absentia and none attended the trial.

Victims of MH17, which had been en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came from 10 different countries. More than half were Dutch.

The investigation was led by the Netherlands, with participation from Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia and Belgium.

After the conclusion of the trial, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Today’s guilty verdicts, convicting three individuals of murder in relation to the downing of MH17, are an important step in securing justice for the families of the victims.

“298 lives, including those of 10 British nationals, were tragically lost on July 17 2014. Thousands more have been devastated in the years since, as family and friends continue to grieve for their loved ones.

“The downing of MH17 was a shocking violation of international norms which keep our societies safe. It serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of Russia’s actions in Ukraine over many years.

“My thoughts remain with the families of all those killed in this heinous attack, including people from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, New Zealand and Canada.”