THE HAGUE – A suspect charged with involvement in shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 denied involvement in the attack in video interviews played Tuesday in a Dutch courtroom.
The recorded comments by Oleg Putalov marked the first time the voice of one of the four suspects charged in the downing of the Boeing 777 has been heard in their trial in absentia.
After years of investigations, prosecutors concluded that a Russian-made Buk missile launched from territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels brought down the passenger jet on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board as it was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. An independent Dutch crash investigation earlier reached the same conclusion.
Pulatov said he and his forces did not have a missile of the type that prosecutors say brought down the plane and added that he was busy at meetings on the day the plane was shot down and did not see or hear a Buk missile launch.
In the interview with his Dutch lawyer that was recorded in Russia, Pulatov said that references to a Buk missile in intercepted communications that are part of prosecutors' evidence are actually deliberate misinformation.
“Whenever you hear any kind of nonsense in the conversations intercepted like mentioning the Buk, you may rest assured that that was done for the deception purposes — we wanted to mislead our adversaries,” Pulatov said.
None of the suspects has appeared for preliminary trial proceedings that are underway in a courtroom on the edge of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, from where the doomed flight took off, heading for Kuala Lumpur. The trial is expected to last at least well into next year.
Prosecutors allege that the missile that brought down MH17 was trucked into Ukraine from a Russian military base and the launcher was then returned to Russia. They accuse Pulatov along with two other Russians — Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy — as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko with organizing the deployment and firing of the Buk and its subsequent return to Russia. Moscow has always denied any involvement in the downing.
Pulatov said he had never asked for or been provided with a Buk.
“Even if I had been begging on my knees for Russia to provide us with a Buk missile system it would have never been granted to us,” he said in the interview played in court. The interview was conducted in Russian and translated by an interpreter present during the interview.
The interview was broadcast in court at a preliminary stage in the trial in absentia of the four suspects as defense lawyers began outlining what further investigations they want in the case ahead of hearings next year.