Russian cooperators in MH17 investigation denied asylum in Netherlands

A Russian couple who requested asylum in the Netherlands because of their inside knowledge about the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was rejected by Dutch immigration office IND. They are currently living illegally in the Netherlands and face deportation to Russia. The couple fled their home country in 2016 after they began to be harassed by men they believed were working for Russian security service FSB, according to the Volkskrant.

Some 298 people lost their lives on July 14, 2014 when MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine by a Russian buk missile. International investigators have said the Russian military and Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine perpetrated the attack, while Russia has pointed the finger at the Ukrainian military. Russia rebuffed attempts to cooperate in the international investigation claiming the process to be biased.

The woman seeking asylum was visiting her husband’s office soon after the downing, and overheard the company director on a phone call. During the call, he spoke loudly with someone he identified as a family member in Eastern Ukraine who said they shot down the plane with a buk missile. It was later alleged that the company was a front either in whole or in part for Russian presence in the occupied territory.

The couple kept quiet about their knowledge of the attack on the passenger jet, until a dispute over money between her boyfriend and the company director. He then revealed what he knew in an effort to collect money owed to him by the company director.

MH17, Dutch Safety Board, in 2015
MH17 wreckage shown at the Dutch Safety Board presentation of its report on the 2014 plane crash. October 13, 2015 – Source: Zachary Newmark at NL Times

The couple then became the subject of a harassment campaign, that led them to flee Russia for the Netherlands. They requested asylum saying they were being targeted by the FSB but without mentioning what they knew about MH17.

In 2018, the Joint Investigation Team revealed comprehensive conclusions about their case into MH17 during a presentation at an air base in front of the reconstructed wreckage of the Boeing 777. During that presentation, they released an appeal in multiple languages asking witnesses to come forward.

That’s when the couple approached investigators in the Netherlands. They were interviewed officially, and told not to disclose information to anybody else, including other government bodies. Soon after, a family member of the woman was severely beaten in Russia and wound up in a coma.

She was not made an official witness in the case because her information was not considered valuable enough to counter-balance the risk she faced by being identified as a witness. It would have required an entire change to the identities of her and her boyfriend.

Prosecutor Joris Beliën told the Volkskrant he had no doubt that her story was accurate and truthful.

However, IND disagreed, and a court sided with immigration authorities. The immigration service said the couple was not credible because they did not immediately share their information about MH17 with authorities in 2016. They also did not disclose their involvement with the investigation to IND after they spoke with investigators, though the couple said this was to comply with the investigators’ requests.

IND also does not believe that the couple demonstrated they have been a target of the FSB.

A former employee of Dutch intelligence service AIVD said the evaluation of the situation by IND and the court system was naive, and possibly ignorant. The expert said they would potentially be in danger if deported to Russia, and there was a “real chance that something could also happen to the couple in the Netherlands”.

IND, the Dutch prosecution service, and a representative of the court system would not comment to the newspaper about the case. 

NL TIMES

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