Dutch prosecutors have levelled murder charges against four men for their alleged involvement in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.
It is the first time criminal charges have been filed regarding the tragedy, which saw the passenger flight shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile as it passed over Ukrainian territory contested by Russian separatist forces.
BBC reports a Dutch-led investigative team has charged three Russians – Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov – who have links to the nation’s military and intelligence apparatus, along with Ukrainian man Leonid Kharchenko, who served as a commander in the region.
While none of the four men have been directly accused of issuing the order to fire the BUK missile, prosecutors allege all were involved in positioning and preparing the missile-launch system to down an aircraft.
Arrest warrants have been issued for all four men, but Russian authorities have denied involvement with the disaster and say their anti-aircraft missile system never crossed Russia’s border into Ukraine.
ABC reports that as Ukraine and Russia do not permit the extradition of their citizens, the four men will be tried at The Hague in absentia on March 9, 2020.
In a statement, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said “This is a significant step in the Dutch prosecution towards justice and accountability for the victims of the downing and their loved ones.”
“While we cannot take away the grief of those who lost loved ones, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure justice prevails,” she added.