Ukraine releases MH17 plane crash ‘key suspect’

Dutch investigators are concerned they won't get to quiz Vladimir Tsemakh

Wreckage from Flight MH17
Ukrainian State Emergency Service employees search for bodies in the wreckage at the crash site
(Image credit: Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

A potentially key witness to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 has been released by a Ukrainian court.

Video footage shows Vladimir Tsemakh boasting that he commanded an anti-air brigade in separatist-held east Ukraine and concealed evidence of a Buk missile system, the kind Dutch investigators say shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet.

The 58-year-old was seized from a separatist-held part of Ukraine in June. He was charged with terrorism for fighting with the Russian-backed separatists, but yesterday he was abruptly released, pending trial.

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Dutch investigators have expressed concern that this means they may be unable to interview him about the MH17 crash, which killed all 298 people on board in 2014.

Al Jazeera says European politicians also view him as a “key suspect” and had asked Kiev to make him available for testimony in the investigation.

Earlier this week, dozens of European MEPs called on the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky not to release Tsemakh. In a joint letter they argued: “His availability and testimony before the joint investigation team is… of the utmost importance for an effective prosecution by the countries involved.”

Speaking of the release in a telephone interview, Kati Piri, a member of the European parliament from the Netherlands, told The Guardian: “You can imagine that not just for the Netherlands, but also for the EU and all the families of the victims of MH17, this is a very, very bad moment.

“I understand the situation but not on MH17, not just a witness but possible suspect, that is a step too far from our perspective.”

On 17 July 2014, the plane was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over eastern Ukraine. Of the 298 passengers, 196 were Dutch citizens.

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