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Putin probably supplied missile that downed plane - investigators

The wreckage of MH17 was painstakingly reassembled in the Netherlands and later inspected as part of the trial
By George Wright
BBC News
BBC News Link

There are strong indications that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to supply the missile that downed flight MH17 in 2014, international investigators say.

The passenger aircraft was hit by a Russian-made missile over Ukraine, killing nearly 300 people.

Prosecutors said there was evidence that Mr Putin decided to provide heavy weaponry to Moscow-backed separatists.

There is no suggestion that Mr Putin ordered the aircraft be shot down.

The conclusions of the Joint Investigation Team - made up of investigators from five countries - follow a Dutch court ruling from last year which found two Russians and a Ukrainian guilty of murder in absentia.

Moscow - which has denied all involvement in the downing of the plane - dismissed those verdicts as "scandalous" and politically motivated.

The international team, charged with looking into those responsible for launching the missile, said on Wednesday it had exhausted all leads and could not continue with any more criminal proceedings.

The Boeing 777 was flying from the Dutch capital to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile in July 2014 during a conflict between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Of the 298 passengers and crew, 196 were Dutch while many of the other passengers came from Malaysia, Australia, the UK, Belgium and other countries.

The Joint Investigation Team cited the Dutch court which last year ruled that Moscow had "overall control" over the Donetsk People's Republic, which controlled the area in July 2014.

It described recorded telephone conversations where Russian officials said the decision to provide military support "rests with the President".

"There is concrete information that the separatists' request was presented to the president, and that this request was granted," it said.

But it added it was not known whether the request "explicitly mentions" the system used to shoot down MH17.

"Although we speak of strong indications, the high bar of complete and conclusive evidence is not reached," investigators said.

"Furthermore, the President enjoys immunity in his position as Head of State."

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is made up of members from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine - the countries worst affected by the shooting down of MH17.

The team wanted to prove the identities of the missile's crew members, and who was in the chain of command, but admitted that was not possible for now.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said: "We will seek to employ all the existing international legal mechanisms to bring [Mr Putin] to justice" over MH17.

Piet Ploeg lost his brother, his brother's wife, and nephew on MH17. He said he was glad prosecutors had laid out their evidence for Mr Putin's involvement.

"All the news we heard about Putin and his personal involvement in the downing on MH17 - facilitating with heavy weapons, the fact he decided personally to hand over heavy arms … we always thought he did, but now we heard he did," he told the BBC.

"He can't be prosecuted for it because he's a head of state, but the world knows."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was "now clear" Vladimir Putin was involved in the tragedy.

This fitted the pattern of a man and country "only concerned with trying to slow things down, spread falsehoods, injustice and of course a terrible form of aggression since the war in Ukraine", he said.

Mr Rutte added he was bitterly disappointed there was not enough evidence to warrant further prosecutions, but insisted that did not mean the criminal justice process was over.

In January, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed it would hear a separate Dutch case against Russia over the downing of MH17.

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