A key suspect in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was detained on unrelated charges in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko was arrested near his home on March 11, and was charged with illegal possession of firearms and an illegal search, media reported.
The MH17 plane was shot down with a Russian-made Buk missile by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, and resulted in the death of 298 civilians, two-thirds of which were Dutch. A Dutch court began criminal proceedings against them in March. Investigators say they have proof the Buk missile system came from a military base in Russia.
Apart from Kharchenko, who led a combat unit as a commander in Eastern Ukraine, three Russian nationals are charged with multiple counts of murder over the downing of the plane: Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence service, Sergei Dubinsky, employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, and Oleg Pulatov, allegedly a former soldier with GRU special forces.
Kharchenko is reportedly being held in a Donetsk justice ministry detention center. Authorities extended his arrest by two months last Friday, media reported.
The MH17 trial began on March 9, but the number of attendees was soon reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is currently adjourned while investigations continue. Hearings are scheduled to resume June 8.
If convicted, the suspects could face sentences of up to life in prison. However, they are unlikely to be extradited, as Russia’s constitution does not permit the extradition of its own nationals.