One defendant in MH17 trial to be represented by lawyers

MH17 crashed over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. (Reuters pic)

AMSTERDAM: One of the four named defendants in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) trial will be represented by a defence team at the first hearing on Monday.

District Court Press Judge Yolande Wijnnobel said two Dutch lawyers will be appearing for the defendant, although she stopped short of revealing his identity.

“Yes, indeed, two lawyers intend to represent one of the suspects in court.

“On Monday, we’ll also see if any other suspects appear or if a counsel appears to represent them instead,” she told reporters at the Schiphol Judicial Complex press centre yesterday.

Wijnnobel also confirmed that the two lawyers who will be representing the defendant had been in contact with a Russian lawyer, stressing that the defendant can only be represented by Dutch attorneys.

“This is a Dutch criminal case for a Dutch court and only Dutch lawyers can represent the accused here. So the two lawyers in question are Dutch lawyers,” she said.

Should the other three suspects fail to appear in court nor be represented, the court will scrutinise whether they were correctly summoned for proceedings, she said.

“If, having investigated that matter, the court decides that the suspects should have known the trial was beginning on this day, then the court may decide that the trial should proceed in their absence, in which case it will be a trial in absentia with regards to those three.”

District Court Press Judge Yolande Wijnnobel

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down with a Russian-made surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

Wreckage from the Boeing 777 fell to the ground in fields surrounding the Ukrainian village of Hrabove in territory held by pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces.

Arrest warrants were issued last year for three Russians and a Ukrainian who were identified by a Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which spent several years collecting evidence to identify those behind the attack.

The four – Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko – held senior positions in the pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The JIT said they had not pulled the trigger but colluded to carry out the attack.

Girkin, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, was minister of defence in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in Ukraine. Dubinsky, Pulatov and Kharchenko were members of the separatists’ military intelligence unit.

The defendants are at large and are not expected to show up for the hearings at a high-security courtroom near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where they will be prosecuted under Dutch law.