Maria Kneif: the mh17 investigation is not over, there is still a lot of work to be done
In the Netherlands, the preliminary hearings in the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crash case in eastern Ukraine in 2014 will end in May. In an interview with RIA Novosti correspondent Anastasia Ivanova, Maria Kneif, a Hague district court judge in charge of working with the media, spoke about what issues remain to be investigated, when sentences can be expected for the defendants, and why the court cannot raise the issue of Kiev’s responsibility for not closing the sky over the military conflict zone on the day of the tragedy.
– In May, the last block of hearings in the preliminary trial of the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine will begin. The hearing on the merits will begin in June 2021. Do you think a final verdict on the defendants is possible before the end of 2021? If not, when could it happen?
– The court does intend to begin the trial on the merits in June, and then, presumably, in September the relatives of the victims will be able to exercise their right to appeal to the court. If there are any changes, the court will make a decision, but for now the trial on the merits is scheduled for June 7. Several blocks of hearings are still scheduled for this year, and they will last until 2022. That’s why the court is not planning any verdicts this year. That’s all I can say at this point. When the court starts sentencing – we’ll have to wait and see, because there’s still a lot of work ahead.
– Could the pandemic situation affect the timing of the case on the merits?
– Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to hold hearings. We don’t expect anything to change in that regard in the near future. I understand that there are travel restrictions now, not everyone can come to meetings, and besides, we all have to wear masks, but we have live streaming on our website so that people from all over the world can follow the hearings online.
– How do you rate the work done during the preliminary hearing? Can it be considered that all sides have presented exhaustive evidence and arguments?
– The court can only conclude that once the merits of the case have been completed, it will be based on all of the case material gathered by the investigating judge. Once that is done, the court can make a decision, and the sentences will be based on that decision.
– But do you think we can proceed to a trial on the merits now, or is a further investigation necessary?
– A trial on the merits can begin even before the entire investigation is completed. But, of course, the investigation must be completed before the court makes a decision.
– During previous sessions, presiding judge Hendrik Steenheis noted that the court had repeatedly sent the U.S. a request for satellite images of the crash site in eastern Ukraine, but there had been no response. Was the court successful in getting a response from the U.S.?
– The court instructed the investigating judge to conduct an investigation. Part of the investigation is complete, part is still ongoing, including the issue of the satellite images. When all the documents are received, they are included in the case file and discussed at the trial. If necessary, the investigating judge will conduct an additional investigation: all this will be discussed during the trial on the merits.
– Does this mean that the U.S. never responded?
– The investigating judge was instructed to investigate, and it is our understanding that the investigation of a number of issues has not been completed. If the U.S. responds to our request, this will be discussed further during the trial on the merits.
– The Dutch government recently said it has no plans to hold Kiev accountable for not closing its airspace on the day of the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine. That issue is also not part of this lawsuit. Why did the Netherlands turn a blind eye to Kiev’s actions?
– Keep in mind that the only thing the court has to answer in this criminal case is the prosecutor’s claim against the four defendants, that is, whether they are responsible for what happened. And what the Dutch government plans to do or not to do is not a matter for the court.
– But why was this question not even raised during this trial?
– In this trial, the question before the court was whether these defendants were responsible for the crash of MH17. The court was instructed to look into that very question. If we’re talking about this case, any questions can be raised by the prosecutor’s office. As for the decision of the Dutch government, that question should be addressed to the Dutch government.
– Was there a request from the prosecutor’s office to investigate the Ukrainian authorities’ failure to close the sky on the day of the tragedy? If not, is there any chance that this issue will be addressed in the future?
– The Public Prosecutor’s Office prosecutes suspects for certain offenses: in this case, it asked to investigate whether specific suspects could be held responsible for what happened. That is the task now before the court.
– Speaking of the four defendants, is it already clear whether any of them will participate in the hearings on the case’s merits, for example, by video link?
– So far none of them has appeared, and nothing has yet been heard in court about the three defendants. The lawyers of only one defendant are present at the trial. Of course, it’s possible that all four defendants will participate, but first they will have to make a statement that they want to participate.
– Accused Sergey Dubinsky in October 2020, through the platform for independent journalists Bonanza media, addressed the representatives of the court and the Netherlands Prosecutor’s Office, stating his willingness to take a lie detector test in Russia in the presence of a Dutch representative and to answer questions about the plane crash. Will the court consider such a possibility?
– All the defendants know about the dates of the court hearings and any of them can make a statement in court. All they have to do is contact the court and say they are willing to make a statement in court and attend. Social media is not a method of contacting the court. They should contact us directly.
– Does this mean that the court does not plan to send its representative to Russia to hear the defendant’s position?
– It means that the defendants have to go to court or appear, and, of course, if they do, the court will hear them. They have already received a subpoena, and if they respond to it, the court will consider how they might make their statement.
– At a hearing in February, presiding judge Hendrik Steenheis said that the court in the MH17 crash case leaves it up to the investigating judge to decide whether experts from the Russian defense concern Almaz-Antey can access the reconstruction of the Boeing crash site. What decision did the investigating judge make? Will Russian experts be allowed to the reconstruction site? If not, what are the reasons?
– I cannot answer this question yet. The investigating judge is carrying out the investigation ordered by the court, after which he will add an opinion on the matter to the case file.
– By the way, is there now any cooperation between the Dutch and Russian authorities in the MH17 criminal case?
– I cannot answer this question, because this is not a question that can be answered by the court.
– How does the court assess the fact that phone conversations of one of the defendants in the case, Sergey Dubinsky, were leaked to the Dutch media? Don’t you consider it a disclosure of judicial secrets?
– The presiding judge said that the court was responsible for the case materials and checked whether the wiretapped conversations had been taken from the case file. However, the source of these audio files remains unknown to the court. What is clear is that these conversations were not taken from the case file. The defense addressed a number of requests to the court on this topic, the prosecutor’s office gave its answers. And the court has yet to make a decision on these requests.
– So you can confirm that these conversations do not appear in the criminal case file, and they are not known to the court?
– In the case file, of course, there are recordings of phone conversations. The court checked whether all the audio files of the telephone conversations discussed in the program were taken from the case file, and found that they were not, so the source of these recordings is unknown to us.
– How do you think this situation could affect the process?
– The participants of the trial – the defense and the prosecutor’s office – should give their opinion on this matter. The defense asked us about these audio files. The court will decide accordingly.
Source: RIA Novosti
Translation by Donbass Insider