VOutside the courthouse there was a smell of kerosene and the roar of planes could be heard every few minutes. The Schiphol Justice Complex, one of three high-security courts in the Netherlands, is located directly on a runway at Schiphol Airport. Here, in a suburb of Amsterdam, the criminal case for the crash of flight MH17 began two and a half years ago. The Boeing 777 serving Malaysian Airlines took off here on July 17, 2014 – and never reached Kuala Lumpur. Two hours and 49 minutes after takeoff, it suddenly disappeared from the radar screens of Ukrainian air traffic control. Shortly thereafter, debris fell over a wide area in Donetsk Oblast, which was then controlled by separatists. 298 people from 17 countries were dead, most of them Dutch, including four Germans.
It was a national trauma in the Netherlands, but also the start of an international investigation, a Joint Investigation Team with professionals from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia and Belgium – the four countries from which most of the victims came – as well as Ukraine, where the plane crashed. And it was the beginning of a struggle for the truth that came to a temporary end on Thursday. Three of the four accused were sentenced to life imprisonment by the District Court of The Hague for causing a plane crash resulting in death and murder. Life imprisonment means indefinite imprisonment in the Netherlands. However, it is not to be expected that they will be held accountable for this in the foreseeable future. The two Russians, Igor Girkin, 51, and Sergej Dubinskij, 60, and the Ukrainian Leonid Chartschenko, 50, are not available to either the Dutch or the Ukrainian judiciary. Girkin, the best-known of the quartet for his all-encompassing presence on Twitter, is said to be back fighting in eastern Ukraine. Chartschenko could also be there.