Russia 'allowed MH17 suspect to flee to Ukraine and avoid extradition'

Russia ‘allowed MH17 suspect to return to rebel-held Ukraine and avoid extradition’

  • Vladimir Tsemakh, a suspect in shoot-down of MH17, was being held in Ukraine
  • In September he was sent to Russia in a prisoner swap ahead of peace talks 
  • Dutch prosecutors filed for extradition, but Moscow said it could not find him
  • Lawyers have accused Russia of allowing him to flee to eastern Ukraine, where a conflict is still underway, in defiance of the extradition order

Russia allowed a suspect in the shootdown of flight MH17 to flee to eastern Ukraine to avoid extradition to the Netherlands, Dutch prosecutors have said.

Vladimir Tsemakh, 58, an alleged air defence specialist for pro-Moscow separatists, was one of dozens of prisoners sent from Ukraine to Russia in September as part of a prisoner swap.

Lawyers for the Dutch government say they immediately asked Moscow to hand him over for questioning over the downed plane, but were told he could not be found.  

Vladimir Tsemakh, 58, a suspect in the shootdown of MH17, was sent from Ukraine to Russia in September as part of a prisoner swap. Dutch prosecutors say they asked for him to be extradited before his plane even landed, but Moscow claimed it could not find him

The Netherlands is due to put four men on trial in absentia in March over their alleged role in the disaster, which killed 298 – mostly Dutch. They say Tsemakh’s absence will not affect this

‘According to media reports Mr Tsemakh had already returned to his residence in eastern Ukraine,’ the Dutch prosecution service said in a statement.

Eastern Ukraine is a war zone occupied by pro-Russian separatists, so extradition from here is virtually impossible. 

‘The Public Prosecution Service has concluded that Russia willingly allowed Mr Tsemakh to leave the Russian Federation and refused to execute the Dutch request, while under the European Convention on Extradition, it was obliged to do so.’

The convention is under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the continent’s foremost human rights body, which Moscow joined in 1996. 

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board – 193 of whom were Dutch.

International investigators say the missile was brought from Russia and fired from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists. 

The Netherlands is due to put four other suspects on trial in absentia in March over the shooting down of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a Russian-made BUK missile.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Investigators say the missile came from Russia and was fired from an area controlled by pro-Russia separatists

Dutch prosecutors said they ‘regard Tsemakh as a suspect’, and they had quizzed him in Kiev earlier this year following his arrest by Ukrainian government forces.

But Ukraine then handed him over to Russia as a key part of September’s swap, despite appeals by the Netherlands not to do so.

The Netherlands said it sent Russia an extradition request before the plane carrying him to Moscow had even landed as there were indications he wanted to flee.

‘The Russian Federation does not extradite its own citizens but since Mr Tsemakh is a Ukranian citizen, there were no impediments for his extradition,’ it said.

But despite a personal appeal by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Russia said he could not be extradited ‘because no information regarding the whereabouts of Mr Tsemakh in the Russian Federation was available.’

The Dutch said the Tsemakh episode would have ‘no effect on the start of the MH17 criminal trial’ on March 9.

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