Julie Bishop says Australia could pursue those behind MH17 with Lockerbie-style case

Foreign minister says Russia will likely veto moves for UN action, but other legal avenues will be considered

Australia’s foreign minister has said Russian-backed rebels responsible for shooting down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, killing 298 people including 38 Australians, could face a Lockerbie-style prosecution once the investigation has concluded.

Julie Bishop said Russia would likely veto any moves by the United Nations security council to bring to trial those responsible, so other legal avenues would be considered.

An international team investigating the downing of flight MH17 released its preliminary conclusions on Wednesday.

missile launch graphic

The two-year investigation found close to 100 people were linked to the transport and firing of the Buk 9M38 missile that brought down the plane in 2014. It found the missile had been driven from Russia into an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels.

Russia has rejected all suggestions its military was involved in the incident.

The Dutch government summoned Russia’s ambassador in The Hague for a diplomatic rebuke on Friday after Moscow made remarks critical of the investigation and Russia is expected to summon the Dutch ambassador in Moscow on Monday to explain its reasons for rejecting the findings.

Last week Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said he had “no doubt” about Russia’s culpability and Australia was interested in legal action being taken by the Netherlands.

Bishop said on Sunday said the next step for investigators was to identify those responsible for the missile attack, including the chain of command in the Russian military and all those involved in firing the missile.

“I expect that by the end of the year, maybe early next year, the list of those that we believe should be held accountable will be confirmed and then there must be a prosecution,” she told the ABC on Sunday.

She said she assumed Russia would veto any attempt by the United Nations Security Council to bring those responsible to trial, so Australia would consider other options.

“There can be a Lockerbie-style prosecution, a tribunal that’s set up by the international community, or there can be domestic prosecutions in, say, the Netherlands,” she said.

“As long as they had the powers of extradition and the like, a prosecution could be mounted successfully in a domestic jurisdiction, but that would cover the interests of the 298 victims aboard that flight.”

“Both have positive and negative attributes. I think a domestic style tribunal would possibly be easier to establish but you’d have to make sure that it had all the necessary powers, for example extradition, to be able to absolutely hold those responsible for this atrocity to account.”

Bishop said the investigation had confirmed that the missile was Russian but it was up to the final report to confirm if Russia was responsible for the attack.

“I think from the outset the Australian government has been of the view that Russia has questions to answer,” she said.

“This puts the spotlight back on President Putin. They are already trying to discredit the investigation, in fact they’ve been doing that for sometime. And seeking to deflect focus from Russia on others. Their theories are improbable, implausible.”

MH17 victims remembered in Amsterdam ceremony


Gareth Hutchens with agencies

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