Investigators find ‘strong indications’ Putin approved supply of missiles used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — An international team of investigators said Wednesday they found «strong evidence» that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the supply of heavy anti-aircraft weapons to Ukrainian separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. in 2014 with a Russian missile.

However, members of the Joint Investigation Team said they did not have enough evidence to prosecute Putin or any other suspect and have suspended their eight-and-a-half-year investigation into the shooting down that killed all 298 aboard the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Russia has always denied any involvement in the downing of the flight over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and has refused to cooperate with the international investigation.

Dutch prosecutors said «there are strong indications that the Russian president decided to supply» a Buk missile system, the weapon that brought down MH17, to Ukrainian separatists.

“Although we are talking about strong evidence, the high level of complete and conclusive evidence is not reached,” said Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer, adding that without Russian cooperation, “the investigation has now reached its limit. All tracks have been exhausted.

He also said that as head of state, Putin would have immunity from prosecution in the Netherlands. The team played a recording of an intercepted phone call in which they said Putin could be heard discussing the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“Are we disappointed? No, because we think that in 2014 we went further than we ever thought. Would we have liked to go further? Of course I do,» said Andy Kraag of the Dutch police.

The team informed the relatives of those killed in the downing of MH17 of their findings before making them public.

«There was disappointment because … they wanted to know why MH17 was shot down,» Kraag said. «We are very clear about what happened, but the answer to the question of why MH17 was shot down still remains in Russia.»

Van Boetzelaer said that while the investigation is suspended, the phone lines will remain open for potential witnesses who still want to present evidence. If that happens, the query could be reactivated.

Russian officials say the decision to provide military support to the rebels during the summer of 2014 rested with Putin.

An arms supply decision was even postponed for a week “because there is only one person who makes a decision (…), the person who is currently at a summit in France,” the research team said, citing a telephone conversation referring to putin

Prosecutors said Putin was at a D-Day commemoration in France at the time.

The investigative team’s announcement comes nearly three months after a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian rebel for their role in the downing of the plane. A Russian was acquitted by the court.

None of the suspects appeared for trial and it was unclear if the three who were found guilty of multiple murders will ever serve their sentences.

The convictions and the court’s conclusion that the Buk surface-to-air missile came from a Russian military base were seen as a clear indication that Moscow played a role in the tragedy. Russia has always denied its involvement. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the court in November of caving in to pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the media.

But the November indictments held that Moscow had overall control in 2014 over the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the breakaway area of ​​eastern Ukraine where the missile was launched. The Buk missile system came from the Russian Army’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based in the city of Kursk.

The Joint Investigation Team consists of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine. Most of the victims were Dutch. It continued to investigate the crew of the missile system that brought down the plane and those who ordered its deployment to Ukraine.

In addition to the criminal trial that took place in the Netherlands, the Dutch and Ukrainian governments are suing russia before the European Court of Human Rights for his alleged role in the downing of MH17.

The findings revealed Wednesday are likely to strengthen the case in the human rights court and could also be used by International Criminal Court prosecutors who are investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine dating back to the start of the separatist conflict.

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