During the discussion of the results of the extensive investigation this week, the court will seek answers to three main questions: was flight MH17 shot down with a BUK missile? Was a BUK missile fired from an agricultural field near Pervomaiskyi in eastern Ukraine? Were the four suspects Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Leonid Chartshenko and Oleg Pulatov involved?

It was clear from the start that the suspect’s bench would remain empty. Only Pulatov is represented by two lawyers. Girkin, Dubinsky and Chartshenko were silent. She couldn’t have missed the fact that a lawsuit is pending. The international attention for the process is great.

Monologue

The consequence of their absence is that no questions can be asked. This means that those present this week will mainly listen to a monologue by the judges who have made an outline selection from the file that has a total of 65,000 pages and many hundreds of hours of film footage, recorded telephone conversations and photos. Attorney Sabine ten Doesschate of Oleg Poelatov urged the court to discuss everything that the court finds relevant in any case. “So that we know what the court takes into account in the assessment.”

According to some critics, the empty suspects’ bench is a ghost trial. Many relatives think otherwise. They realize that most likely no one will ever end up behind bars, but nevertheless find it important that a court determines who is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. A total of 298 people on board were killed. A possible conviction will in any case prevent the suspects from crossing the border. They run the immediate risk of arrest.

Two officers in the MH17 trial.

Two officers in the MH17 trial.

Confronting details

On Monday morning, the court mainly explained how things will go this week. Chairman Steenhuis did this extensively, because many people abroad are also following the case via a live stream and it is relevant for them to understand how a Dutch criminal trial is conducted. According to Steenhuis, the fact that the file is discussed in outline does not mean that no – sometimes very confrontational – details will be discussed.

Steenhuis emphasized several times that the file contains the findings of the investigation team, but that the court has not yet formed a judgment on this. The investigation took many years. During one of the first preliminary hearings more than a year ago, the Public Prosecution Service spoke of “a classic and cynical disinformation campaign” and even hacking attempts on the part of the Russians, to influence and complicate the investigation into the disaster.

Satellite images

The investigation continues during the trial. The court said Monday that despite multiple requests for legal assistance, the United States is refusing to provide satellite images showing a missile being fired from eastern Ukraine. The Americans invoke the intelligence interest. The Dutch investigating judge no longer sees any possibilities to obtain or see those images.

When the court has finished discussing the facts and the main questions, the Public Prosecution Service will have the opportunity to present parts of the file next Thursday and Friday. The defense of Pulatov also gets room for input. The session block runs until 9 July. In September, the next of kin will be given the opportunity to make use of the right to speak for three weeks.

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