MH17 Trial: Dutch Prosecutors Start Closing Arguments, Say Victims ‘Didn’t Stand A Chance’

Local workers clear a piece of wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove after the plane was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, killing everyone on board.  

Dutch prosecutors said on December 20 that the 298 victims of the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine "didn’t stand a chance" once a rocket hit the aircraft, as they began their closing arguments in the closely watched trial.

MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine, killing all passengers and crew.

The four suspects — Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko — are being tried in absentia for involvement in the tragedy. Only one of the suspects, Pulatov, is represented by lawyers at the trial.

All four are accused of being key figures among Russia-backed separatists battling Ukrainian government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.

A team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the missile launcher used to shoot down the aircraft belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

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In their closing arguments, prosecutors said evidence such as photos, intercepted telephone conversations, videos, and witness statements shows that the accused procured the Buk missile and fired it on July 17, 2014.

However, they added, they probably intended to hit a Ukrainian military jet.

Recalling the incident, Prosecutor Berger Thijs looked back at the moment when Ukrainian air traffic control lost contact with flight MH17.

Berger said the passengers "did not stand a chance" as the cockpit was detonated by the blast.

"At that moment, a warhead from a Buk missile detonated to the left of the cockpit, shrapnel and missile parts pierced the left of the cockpit and the accompanying blast does the rest," he said, adding: "The passengers of flight MH17 didn’t stand a chance."

A sentencing demand was expected on December 22 at the end of the 20-month trial, which is being held in the Netherlands because the plane departed from there and 196 of the victims were Dutch.

A verdict is likely to be handed down late next year.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

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