Today, the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) presented its final report about the facts surrounding the disaster of flight MH17 on 17 July last year and the circumstances surrounding the crash. Through this investigation the OVV wants to establish safety lessons to be learned for the future.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is conducting the criminal investigation into the disaster, with the ultimate goal to identify the perpetrators of the attack and to prosecute them. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) and the National Police co-operate with Australia, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium in this Joint Investigation Team. The OVV and the JIT are each conducting their own separate investigations, because both organisations need to be able to operate independently.
The Dutch Safety Board has concluded that flight MH17 was shot down with a BUK missile system. Up to the present, the findings of the criminal investigation point in that same direction. The JIT had already announced that in the criminal investigation, the most likely scenario is that MH17 was shot down by a BUK. In order to obtain conclusive criminal evidence, it is also necessary that other scenarios, such as the possibility that flight MH17 was shot down by another type of missile or that it was shot from the air, can be ruled out convincingly.
Up to the present, the findings of the criminal investigation point in the same direction as the Dutch Safety Board conclusion regarding the area of the launch site. Within the scope of the inquiry certain ‘persons of interest’ have been identified, who are of importance to the investigation.
Progress of the criminal investigation
It is a known fact that this is a very intensive and time-consuming investigation. The JIT operates according to legally established procedures to arrive at conclusive and convincing evidence that will stand firm in court. The burden of proof in a criminal case is heavier and consequently the criminal investigation is more time-consuming. The criminal court will ultimately have to establish that it could have been no other weapon than a BUK and that any alternatives can be ruled out beyond any doubt. Furthermore, it is required to establish a link with potential suspects.
The aspects which are most time-consuming are finding and hearing the many witnesses, as well as the big data-analysis. The inquiry takes place under difficult conditions, especially concerning the gathering of evidence and interviewing witnesses in the relevant area, where an armed conflict is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, the examination of the debris that has been recovered from Ukraine so far, has been concluded. The subsequent secured traces are now being examined and compared by experts. Questions have been presented to experts in many fields and information has been requested from the various security agencies.
Identifying and prosecuting suspects
Apart from the cause of the crash, the investigation is also aimed at identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators. Therefore it needs to be examined who had any role in the shooting down of flight MH17 and what was their intention. In this respect the JIT depends largely on the testimonies of witnesses. It is not easy to find such witnesses, let alone to find them prepared to render a statement in a safe environment. Still a large effort is put into this matter on a daily basis. Both the investigation into the perpetrators and their eventual arrest can take a lot of time.
This means that it is expected that the criminal investigation into the crash of flight MH17 will still be fully continued in 2016. The JIT’s motivation is undiminished. Every day new steps are taken in the direction of finding evidence. The JIT will continue to work on the investigation in full force. Every effort should be made to do justice to the victims and their relatives.