Russian suspect appeals for acquittal at Dutch MH17 trial

Jun 9, 2022, 5:25 PM | Updated: Jun 10, 2022, 5:47 am
FILE - Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis, right, and other trial judges and lawyers view the recons...

FILE - Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis, right, and other trial judges and lawyers view the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen military airbase, southern Netherlands, Wednesday, May 26, 2021. 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, June 10, 2022 to be declared innocent, as judges adjourned the long-running trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian separatist rebel and began months of deliberations to reach verdicts. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool, File)

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool, File)

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

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

He spoke in a recorded video message because he — along with his the three other suspects — has not surrendered to the court to face trial.

Prosecutors say Pulatov was deputy head of the intelligence service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic 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 trial hearings spread over more than two years drew to a close, Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the earliest date the court could deliver verdicts in the complex case is Nov. 17.

The trial began on March 9, 2020, as the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that formed the backdrop of the downing of the passenger jet was still simmering. The hearing of evidence and legal arguments ended Friday with Ukraine engulfed in a devastating war to repel Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

The marathon court case opened with prosecutors solemnly reading out the names of all 298 people who died when the passenger jet was blown out of the sky. Judges also heard emotional victim impact statements by dozens of relatives of those killed.

On the last scheduled day of legal pleadings before verdicts, Pulatov’s Dutch defense lawyers repeated their assertions that their client has not had a fair trial and is innocent.

The trial featured evidence that prosecutors say proves the three Russians — Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy — along with Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were involved in the downing using a Buk missile launcher trucked into Ukraine from a Russian military base and then returned to the base. Russia denies any involvement in downing the jet.

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

Pulatov’s lawyers had their final say in the trial this week, accusing prosecutors of tunnel vision by focusing solely on their theory that separatist rebels shot down MH17, not giving the Russian a fair trial and failing to prove their case against him.

If he is convicted on charges including involvement in the murder of all 298 passengers and crew, Pulatov faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, although it is very unlikely he would ever serve any prison time because Russia will not extradite him.

Pulatov was the only one of the suspects who put up a defense at trial. He said his lawyers had shown “that the evidence presented by the prosecution is not convincing and in some points unreliable, based on guesses and is overall insufficient to underpin a judgment.”

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Russian suspect appeals for acquittal at Dutch MH17 trial