Four charged in Netherlands over shooting down of plane over Ukraine

Three Russians and one Ukrainian have been charged with murder in the Netherlands over the downing of flight MH17 in July 2014 with the loss of 298 lives.

Dutch National Police chief Wilbert Paulissen identified Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, along with Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, as suspects in the downing of the plane in Ukrainian air space, and announced that their trial would start in March 2020.

There are no plans to seek the extradition of the four.

All passengers and crew on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed on July 17 2014, when a missile shattered the Boeing 777 in midair sending debris and bodies raining down onto farms and fields of sunflowers.

AIR MH17 Pilots
MH17: how the plane was destroyed (PA Graphics)

One of the named murder suspects denied Ukrainian separatists shot down the plane.

Girkin told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday that "the insurgents did not shoot it down".

An international investigation team looking into the plane crash has blamed it on a Russian missile that was shot from separatist-held territory.

MH17 crash investigation
A piece of debris from the crash (Dutch Safety Board/PA)

Girkin, a Russian national, was a military chief of the Russia-backed rebels in the area at the time and was named by the investigators as one of the key suspects.

The international team investigating the downing of the flight will not ask Russia and Ukraine to extradite the four suspects.

Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said that the team realises that the constitutions of both countries prohibit that.

MH17 crash investigation
298 people were killed in the incident (Dutch Safety Board/PA)

"In the short term we will ask Russia to hand the summons to the suspects who are in the Russian Federation," he said.

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce was among the dead, expressed relief that five years after the plane was blown out of the sky above conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, a trial could finally start next year.

"This is what we hoped for," Ms Fredriksz-Hoogzand said.

"This is a start of it. It is a good start."

She added that she did not expect any of them to appear for the trial, due to begin on March 9.