Key witness to downing of Flight MH17 released

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-49591148

Volodymyr TsemakhImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

Volodymyr Tsemakh was seized from a separatist-held part of Ukraine earlier this year

A Ukrainian court has released from custody a potentially key witness to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago.

Volodymyr Tsemakh was seized earlier this year from a separatist-held part of Ukraine.

He is reported to have played a key role in the rebels’ air defences.

On 17 July 2014 the jet travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a missile over eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board died.

The downing of the aircraft came amid intense fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. Some 13,000 people have died in the conflict over the last five years.

A team of international criminal investigators said in 2016 the missile had been fired from a field controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Ukraine and Russia are currently negotiating a prisoner swap but it has been widely reported that Mr Tsemakh’s fate became a stumbling block in that exchange.

Last week, Dutch prosecutors urged the authorities in Ukraine not to allow Mr Tsemakh to travel to Russia, out of concerns it could mean he would be prevented from taking part in their investigation.

Forty European politicians have asked for assurances that he be made available for questioning by the Dutch-led team.

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Media captionInvestigators said they had evidence of the route taken by a Russian missile convoy

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has also objected to Mr Tsemakh’s release, saying that he would not be safe out of custody.

“We believed that detention was the only possible preventive measure for Mr Tsemakh. His life might be threatened,” said spokesman Oleh Peresada.

“He is an important element of the truth-seeking in this case. We understand that our northern neighbour [Russia] is known for rough treatment of people who are a danger to them.”

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

An investigator inspects the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) concluded in May 2018 that the missile system involved belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk. It produced evidence that it said proved how the missile system had reached eastern Ukraine.

Russia has denied any involvement in the incident.

Arrest warrants have been issued for four men – three Russians and a Ukrainian – on suspicion of murder in connection with the tragedy.

Mr Tsemakh is not among the suspects, but one of them, Igor Girkin, has said he was head of the separatists’ air defences in Snizhne, close to where the JIT says the missile was fired from.

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