US may have photos of MH17 missile: court

The United States may have classified satellite photographs of an anti-aircraft missile being fired at MH17, killing 298 people six years ago, a Dutch court has heard.

District Judge Hendrik Steenhuis revealed the potential existence of the crucial images at the trial of Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Ukranian Leonid Kharchenko at the Schiphol Justice Complex on Monday.

The four are accused are accused of murder and the destruction of a civilian airliner after downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 38 people who called Australia home, in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

Steenhuis asked if the prosecution will add the satellite images, mentioned by Dutch satellite expert Marco Langbroek, to the case file.

“The United States has access to classified satellite images allegedly showing the missile being fired and that these have been shared with Dutch intelligence services, this has been in a statement by Mr (Marco) Langbroek, who is a satellite expert,” the judge said.

“Further, it is stated in the documents that the United States has no restriction to declassifying this information.

“The question is whether this is correct, and whether the prosecution is considering adding this information to the record.”

The prosecution is expected to respond to the question at the next court session on June 8.

Judge Steenhuis granted the lawyers for the victims’ families access to the prosecutor’s case files, but with strict measures to ensure documents aren’t published to minimise the risk to witnesses.

The victims’ lawyers will be allowed to discuss the contents with their clients only and will not be allowed to make copies.

The court also ordered special protections for the identity of witness M58, a Russian volunteer who was guarding the alleged missile launch site when MH17 was downed, as they will be questioned again by prosecutors.

“Identification details of this witness therefore must be removed from the copies of documents before they are made available to the (victims’) counsel,” Judge Steenhuis said.

Meanwhile, an examining magistrate will rule on the defence’s application to translate case files into Russian and a request from the prosecution to refuse Pulatov’s lawyers access to investigation files that are not case files.

Strict physical distancing rules due to coronavirus were in place at the hearing with three judges sitting spaced apart with only one prosecutor, one lawyer for the victims and a single court clerk present. Pulatov’s defence lawyers attended via livestream.

At the next hearing on June 8, defence lawyers will be able to set out preliminary objections and for any further investigations.

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