THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court on Wednesday granted several requests for information or further investigations made by defense lawyers for a Russian accused of involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, a ruling that marked the end of the pretrial phase of the landmark case.
Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the substantive trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian charged with shooting down the Boeing 777 as it flew over conflict-ravaged eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, is set to begin on Feb. 1.
The court approved requests for further investigations including interviews with witnesses and checking whether some video and photo evidence might have been manipulated. It rejected other defense requests for information to be added to the case.
All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed when the plane was blown out of the sky by what an international investigation and a separate Dutch crash probe concluded was a Buk missile. The four defendants, none of whom has surrendered to face justice, are accused of involvement in the attack and the murder of all those on board.
The court has earmarked several weeks from February through to November next year for trial hearings.
Steenhuis appeared keen not to allow the new investigations, which under Dutch law are overseen by an investigating judge, to delay the case.
“The court takes the view that ... the substantive procedures do not need to wait until the investigating judge has carried out all his investigations,” he said after reading out a lengthy interim ruling on requests for further inquiries.
Only one of the suspects, Oleg Pulatov, is represented by defense lawyers at the Dutch trial. He denied involvement in a video interview with one of his lawyers that was played to the court on Nov. 3.
Prosecutors allege that the missile that brought down flight MH17 was trucked into Ukraine from a Russian military base and the launcher was then returned to Russia. They accuse Pulatov along with two other Russians — Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy — as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko of organizing the deployment and firing of the Buk and its subsequent return to Russia. Moscow has always denied any involvement in the downing.
Pulatov's Dutch defense lawyers have said he would be prepared to answer in writing further questions, but Steenhuis rejected the offer, saying that he would only put questions to Pulatov if the Russian came to the courtroom in person.