The Australian chief investigator into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 says he hopes the charging of four men over the tragedy will bring some solace to the victims’ families.
Prosecutors have charged the men with shooting down MH17 in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, including 38 Australians.
The Dutch-led Joint Investigations Team (JIT) revealed Thursday night that an international warrant has been issued for three Russians, Igor Girkin, Oleg Pulatov and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.
They are alleged to have played an “important organising role” in bringing the missile system from Russia to Ukraine and allowing it to be fired.
Detective Superintendent David Nelson, who has been based in the Netherlands for two years as part of JIT, said he hoped the bereaved families will be able to take some solace from the breakthrough.
“Today would be incredibly important after nearly five years, to have this announcement now, I hope that brings some comfort to the next of kin who I know have been incredibly patient with the JIT as we investigate this highly complex matter,” Mr Nelson said.
“Today has been really good and I hope it brings some comfort to the next of kin.”
The JIT said Mr Girkin was defence minister, Dubinsky and Pulatov were intelligence heads, and Kharachenko was a field commander in the Donetsk People’s Republic, which was fighting for independence from Ukraine at the time.
All four men will be tried for murder in the Netherlands starting March 9, 2020, the JIT said.
Mr Girkin has insisted he’s innocent and said he would not testify in the Dutch-led legal proceedings against him.
“Neither I nor any other separatist is to blame,” he said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.
The charges come five years after the Boeing 777 passenger plane was shot down over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.
Former foreign minister Julie Bishop says the grieving families will be relieved three over the charges.
“I welcome this progress in the investigation of the shooting down of MH17 with the naming of these four individuals to be prosecuted for their role in what was a despicable crime,” Ms Bishop told ABC Radio National on Thursday.
“And I think it will be a relief to the families who deserve answers as to how their loved ones died aboard that plane.”
As foreign minister, Ms Bishop led a push for the international community to have access to the crash site, located where Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed armed separatists had been fighting.
“Russia has long waged a disinformation campaign against the joint investigation team. There have been cyber attacks targeting the investigation,” she said.
“But I have full confidence in the joint investigation team’s independence.”
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Crozier said the probe into who was responsible for the attack on MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, will continue until all possible suspects have been identified.
Mr Crozier said the MH17 investigators now intend to explore the chain of command, including members of the Russian government and military officials who may have authorised for the missile to be sent to Ukraine
“We will continue to investigate as new leads, as new opportunities appear we will follow those,” he said.
“Australia will be involved until there are no further opportunities for us to be involved. Through the investigation and the prosecution we will stay the course.”
“One of the key things for us is not to lose sight of why we are doing this and this is about those 298 people, this is about all those families that are affected by this.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it regretted the findings of the MH17 crash investigation and called the murder charges against Russian suspects groundless.
The JIT used phone taps, social media, big data and witness statements to establish the position of the suspects in the chain of command.
As well as 38 Australians, there was one New Zealander, 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons aboard MH17. The other passengers were from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada.