MH17 suspect may testify in trial, lawyers say

Oleg Pulatov, the only one of the first four men tried for involvement in the MH17 disaster to send lawyers to the first day of proceedings on Monday, may testify on his own behalf during the trial. "He is a man who wants to be involved in his defense. He believes it is important to work on that," Sabine ten Doesschate, one of the two lawyers representing Pulatov, said to Nieuwsuur. "He says he was not involved in any way."

Ten Doesschate and colleague Boudewijn van Eijck are representing Pulatov together. They stress that they do not dispute how dramatic the MH17 disaster was "We are also just people who are very sorry that this happened. But as a criminal lawyer you often have to deal with cases with very serious consequences. It is our job to defend the person suspected of something so bad," Ten Doesschate said to the program. "The surviving relatives also indicate that they appreciate the fact that a defense is being conducted. Because it also legitimizes the process."

The lawyers do not yet know exactly how they will conduct their defense. Though Van Eijck did say in Monday's hearing that he wanted to investigate why the airspace over Ukraine wasn't closed, even though there was a conflict on the ground. Ukraine did not take enough account of the danger to passenger aircraft, he said. 

The lawyers told Nieuwsuur that they are being paid by a Russian foundation for their defense of Pulatov. "A fund has been established for the legal assistance of our client. That is a Russian foundation established in Russia," Van Eijck said. Ten Doesschate added that "a fund into which money can be deposited for major international criminal cases is not unusual". She said that she "has full confidence" that their client "can speak freely when we speak to him."

The hearings in the criminal trial against the first MH17 suspects will continue at the high security court in Schiphol on Tuesday and Wednesday. These are just proforma hearings. The substantive treatment of this case will only start at the end of this year at the earliest. The process is expected to take years.