As the 11 family members of the Australian victims sat in the court on day two of the MH17 hearings, they listened to what some say they already knew.
- Russia engaged in a campaign of disinformation to thwart the investigation into the MH17 disaster, prosecutors say
- Russia used a leaked AFP report that considered the metadata of photographs of the missile launcher, they allege
- Several witnesses say they fear for their lives if their identities come to light
From the very beginning, Russia had engaged in a “textbook” campaign of disinformation as it tried to “thwart” the investigation into the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.
The prosecutors told the court it was possible Russia successfully hacked the multi-nation investigation into the shooting down of the plane, as it peddled misinformation and tried to fuel confusion.
“The sum of all the facts casts a dark shadow over this investigation because there is strong indicative evidence the Russian Government is keen to thwart the investigation,” prosecutor Thijs Berger told the hearing, part of which focused on testimony by witnesses who have not yet been named.
“Several witnesses in this investigation have said that they fear for their lives if their identities would come to light.”
Russia had, prosecutors said, also used a leaked Australian Federal Police report, that in part considered the metadata of photographs of the missile launcher, as part of its campaign of disinformation.
“Only the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Malaysia had access to all the documents,” Dedy Woei- A-Tsoi, counsel for the public prosecution, said of the report.
“So far none of these four Joint Investigation Team states have been able to identify any leaks.”
AFP expects more disinformation from Russia
AFP Detective Superintendent David Nelson, who leads the Australian team of investigators in the Netherlands, said the court was warning the next of kin of the dead there would be more mistruths to come from Russia.
“They made the clear point disinformation has occurred over the last five and a half years and is going to occur no doubt in the future as this trial continues,” he said outside the court.
“It’s not helpful for the next of kin. I don’t think it helps their grieving and ability to follow the trial and know what the facts are.”
Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hurst (right) and Detective Superintendent David Nelson expect more disinformation from Russia during the MH17 trial. (REUTERS: Piroschka Van De Wouw)
Jon O’Brien, whose son Jack died on board MH17, sat in the courtroom throughout the day’s testimony.
“On one level it just makes the claims by the Russian Federation just ludicrous, just empty and ludicrous,” he said.
“It’s a bit embarrassing on one level if it wasn’t so offensive and have such a malicious intent.”
Lisa and Bryan Clancy, whose brother Mick died in the disaster alongside his wife Carol, have argued Russian President Vladimir Putin is ultimately responsible.
“They’re murderers and they’re trying to cover their tracks,” Mr Clancy said of the Russians as he emerged from the court for a lunch break.
“I was aware that they were trying to cover up a fair bit … but now much more’s coming out in the court, showing how much has been covered and the lengths that they’re going to.
“It’s beyond my belief.”
The Joint Investigation Team has spent years investigating the downing of MH17.
In 2018, investigators concluded the BUK missile launcher used in the attack belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.
The four men on trial — none of whom are accused of pulling the trigger — allegedly helped transport the BUK missile launcher from Russia to Ukraine in 2014, before MH17 was shot down on July 17 that year over eastern Ukraine.
There were 298 people on board, including 38 Australians.
None of the men have appeared at the trial, and only one — Oleg Pulatov — sent a defence lawyer.
All of the men held senior posts within the pro-Russian militias fighting Ukrainian government forces in the country’s east and Russia has always denied involvement.
The trial has been adjourned until later this month.