On 17 July 2014 a Malaysian airlines flight MH 17 was shot down while transiting Ukrainian airspace, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed. The Netherlands had the largest number of casualties, followed by Australia, Malaysia, and a small smattering of other nationalities.
In 2020 a criminal trial began in the Netherlands. The four accused were three Russian citizens and one Ukrainian. None of the four defendants have been present at the trial, although one of the accused, a Russian national, has been legally represented. That lawyer, whose career history suggests minimal exposure to criminal law and certainly nothing of this magnitude, has sought to present her client’s case within the limits imposed by the trial procedure.
To describe this trial as a farce and a disgrace to the legal history of the Netherlands would not be an overstatement. The Australian citizen and Moscow resident John Helmer has been diligently following the trial and reporting on the proceedings on his blog site Dances With Bears. For those interested in following what can only be described as the bizarre proceedings they are urged to read Mr Helmer’s website. The purpose of this brief note is to comment on several features of the trial that appear to the objective observer to be a total farce that violates several fundamental principles of judicial procedure, especially as they are applied in the context of a criminal trial.
The first oddity is that the investigation and evidence gathering appears to have been the prerogative of the Ukrainian Secret Service. To describe this as a basic conflict of interest in the circumstances of this trial would be an understatement.
At the time of the tragedy, the Ukrainian government, which came to power in an American inspired and financed coup d’état earlier in 2014 was, to put it mildly, far from a disinterested party. At the time of the tragedy Kiev was engaged in a civil war (that continues to this day) against the predominantly Russian speaking eastern region of Donbas. The province of Crimea had seceded from Ukraine and voted overwhelmingly to re-join Russia, which it had been an integral part of since the 18th century.
It had never been part of what today is called Ukraine. Crimea was also the site of a Russian naval base that the United States coveted, and had the Kiev regime succeeded in re-taking Crimea there is little doubt that Crimea would have become another United States naval base aimed at Russia. To call that result intolerable would be an accurate description.
One of the bizarre features of the rampant political posturing at that time was the vow by the then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to assist the Ukrainians in re-taking Crimea by force. That this could have involved Australia in a war with Russia appears not to have featured in his mindset. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed
The allegation that the plane had been brought down by a missile fired by Russian troops from Ukrainian territory was always an allegation that lacked any rational basis. That it also lacked actual physical evidence was also a fact, but one which has been consistently ignored by the Dutch prosecuting authorities.
It is in fact even worse than that. As is well known, Ukraine was once part of the USSR, a political entity that dissolved in 1991. Prior to that dissolution, Russia had provided the bulk of the weaponry within the armoury of the member states of the USSR. This included the BUK missile allegedly used to shoot down MH 17.
The Ukrainian investigators had provided some limited information to support their allegation that the plane was shot down by “Russia”. They exhibited what was claimed to be two pieces of debris from the remains of the missile said to have a shot down MH17. That this “evidence” fundamentally violated basic principles of evidence such as a record of location, preservation and identification was one of the many violations of criminal investigation procedure. This lack of basic procedure is one of the more troubling features of the trial of the four accused and why the term “farce” is not an overstatement.
Worse was to come for the Dutch prosecutors however. On 17 September 2018 (nearly 2 years ago it should be noted) the Russian authorities made a significant announcement that also is conspicuous by its absence from western reporting. The Russians announced that they had identified the missile from the numbers that were part of the two exhibited remnants. The missile to which those numbers were a part had been given to the Ukraine authorities back in USSR days of 1986. The missile had remained in Ukrainian custody ever since.
In any criminal trial worthy of the description of proper procedure in accordance with long established principles of evidence, that should have meant the collapse of the prosecution case. The fact that this evidence has essentially been disregarded by the Dutch prosecution confirms beyond reasonable doubt that the trial proceedings are an utter sham.
That is not the only fatal flaw in the prosecution case, the entire detailing are which is beyond the scope of this brief comment.
Multiple eyewitnesses have come forward to give their account of what they observed in the sky over Donbass that day. Those witnesses are unknown to each other, have no known affiliation with any separatist or anti-government forces, and no determinable reason to lie. They all say they saw the same thing: that they both saw and heard Ukrainian fighter jets in the vicinity at the relevant time.
That evidence is not conclusive of any major point of itself. There may have been an innocent explanation for their presence. That innocent option however, is fatally undermined by two points. The first is that there was no logical reason for the Ukrainian authorities to lie about the fact that they had military aircraft in the air at that time and in that place. If there was an innocent explanation, why not say so?
The second point however, is also fatal to the prosecution case. The evidence of the structural damage to the aircraft is unmistakably evidence of bullet damage that could only have come from a fighter aircraft, and given the location on the civilian aircraft of the bullet damage, came most probably from two aircraft firing from different directions.
Again, there is no innocent explanation for this evidence. MH 17 was brought down by aircraft fire directed at the pilot’s location in the aircraft cockpit. Further indirect evidence of this point is that the bodies of the crew were examined medically, but they were neither shown to family members nor were the results of the autopsies released.
The final brief point that evokes scepticism about the bona fides of accusers of alleged Russian malpractice is the satellite data. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry boasted at the time that because of their overhead satellites the Americans knew exactly what had happened. Again, the appropriate course of action is blindingly obvious: release the satellite data and resolve the contentious issue of what exactly shot down MH17. The Americans have refused to do so.
Again, given the likely definitive nature of such evidence there is no good reason to withhold the data unless it fails in fact to support the anti-Russian allegations. Neutral observers will again draw a negative inference from the Americans refusal and would be justified in doing so.
There is much else about this trial that reveals it to be a total legal farce. Apart from the aforementioned website of Mr Helmer, the actual evidence has been painstakingly gathered by the Dutch academic Kees van der Pijl (2018). To one’s total lack of surprise the results of these independent investigators have been censored from the western mainstream media.
It is this censorship of independent evidence that is perhaps the final telling blow to the credibility of the official inquiry. The trial currently underway in Amsterdam is a sham and a disgrace to the memory of nearly 300 victims of Western power politics. They deserve a better epitaph than this shoddy mockery of western justice.