The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the complaint of Volodymyr Tsemakh, the ex-witness in MH17 case, and refused in the ban of his extradition to the Netherlands.
“We are disappointed with the ECHR decision to reject our request for the approval of interim measure, which would allow to ban the extradition of Tsemakh to the Netherlands,” his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said.
Besides, he added that despite such a decision of the Strasbourg court, he will continue to look for other ways to prevent the extradition.
“The statement of the ECHR that the replies to all requests were filed to my address is weird. I did not get anything from the ECHR; it is unknown where they filed them,” the lawyer reported.
Shortly after the beginning of the MH17 trial, senior prosecutor Fred Westerbeke became the head of the Rotterdam police, the head of the Ukrainian MH17 investigators was also dismissed.
Before the MH-17 process begins, everything seems to move. Fred Westerbeke, who headed the JIT investigation as a public prosecutor, also responsible for other investigations in the field of terrorism and organized crime, will become the head of the Rotterdam police force on April 1. The move is a remarkable decision shortly after the start of the process in early March, which is planned until 2021 and is expected to take place under strict security conditions.
According to the media reports, it does not appear to be known who will become Westerbeke's successor. The prosecutor replaces Frank Paauw, who became Amsterdam's chief of police in the spring. So there was a gap to fill, especially since Westerbeke had started his career as a police officer and then as a public prosecutor in Rotterdam. But taking him out of the job at the beginning of the politically high mammoth process suggests at least a change in attitudes. Was one not satisfied with Westerbeke's investigation, was he too fixated on Russia, but what the Dutch government was and is, or is it too lax?
Most recently, despite intervention by the Dutch government, Vladimir Zemak (Tsemakh), who was described as an important witness and ultimately a suspect, was lost due to the prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia. He might have been the only witness / suspect who can be interviewed in court or through a video link. The four other suspects will not appear in court. Zemak, who is accused of participating in a terrorist organization (the "Donetsk People's Republic") and hiding the Buk system, which is on very shaky legs, had been kidnapped to Kiev by the Ukrainian secret service and was supposed to be there against offers, as he claims to testify against Russian suspects.
The new Ukrainian government considered the prisoner exchange more important than the MH17 witness. Now he is back in Donetsk and should not be extradited by Ukraine as a citizen (Dutch parliament calls for an investigation against Ukraine). The Dutch public prosecutor has announced that she sees Zemak as a suspect but does not yet know if she will file suit against him. This leaves the game open, but looks very tactical. Didn't Westerbeke want to play in it? Zemak himself has brought an action against the Netherlands before the ECJ.
There was also a surprising turnaround in Ukraine, if the information is correct, which Larisa Sargan, the former spokeswoman for the Attorney General Yuri Lutsenko, who was deposed by the new President Zelensky, recently shared on her Facebook. After that, the Ukrainian prosecutor, the head of the Ukrainian MH17 investigation team, was released. Apparently Westerbeke immediately went to Kiev and wanted to meet with the Attorney General Ruslan Rjaboshapka, who has been in office since August. But Sargan is said to have had no time for him, only his deputy, a colleague from the Netherlands.
She suspects that the Ukrainian secret service SBU wants to merge the investigation and that Russia could play a role in this. But it does not seem to be well-liked by the new government, so it is not necessary to believe its claims.
Volodymyr Tsemakh, the suspect in the case of MH17 downing, filed the complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against Ukraine and the Netherlands
According to the lawyer of the suspect, the complaint concerns the conditions of detention and confinement in Kyiv. Besides, Tsemakh stated about the use of psychotropic drugs against him.
“I filed the complaint to the ECHR in the interests of Tsemakh. I do not possess any detailed information; we wait for the further course of events,” lawyer of Tsemakh, Anatoly Kucheren said.
Eliot Higgins, the founder of the international group of the journalists and investigators Bellingcat, said: "It, sooner, reflects the perverse nature of the whole situation. First of all, with the release of Tsemakh by Ukrainian court within the prisoners’ exchange between Ukraine and Russia, despite the fact, that he is Ukrainian; then his escape to Russia and then the refusal of Russia to cooperate with the Netherlands on his detention and now this case".
The daughter of Vladimir Tsemakh, the ex-commander of one of the air defence units of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said on Tuesday that her father was not hiding and that no representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which has placed him on a wanted list, had contacted them.
"We haven't received anything by either mail or the Internet, no one has gotten in touch with us, my father is not hiding from anyone. This was anticipated, [the SBU] needs some kind of new 'buzz' around this case, hence these statements," Maria Tsemakh said.
The daughter's statements come as the Interior Ministry of Ukraine updated its website earlier in the day listing Vladimir Tsemakh, who had previously been called an eyewitness by Kiev in the case of the 2014 MH17 crash in Donbas, as a wanted person. His data was posted in the "Persons hiding from the authorities" section with the date of his disappearance — September 23. It is said he is "a person hiding from bodies of pretrial investigation."
In June, the former commander was abducted by the Ukrainian special forces and taken to Kiev. He was subsequently released in early September in a prisoner swap with Russia and returned to Donetsk.
Flight MH17 crashed with 298 people on board on 17 July 2014, in eastern Ukraine while en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, leaving no survivors. Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics in the Donbass region have blamed each other for the incident.
Tsemakh is thought to be a witness of committing a terrorist act that resulted in casualties.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has put Volodymyr Tsemakh on the wanted list.
The relevant information has been posted on the official website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
The date of disappearance is defined as September 23, 2019.
He is wanted as a person hiding from the investigating authorities.
Ukraine's spec-ops forces managed to detain Tsemakh, who is a citizen of Ukraine, in the town of Snizhne in late June 2019. He was reportedly a commander of an anti-aircraft unit in Donbas back in 2014.
Dutch prosecutors accused Russia today of allowing a suspect in the downing of flight MH17 to return to rebel-held eastern Ukraine in defiance of an extradition agreement.
Vladimir Tsemakh, an alleged air defence specialist for separatists, was one of dozens of prisoners exchanged by Kiev and Moscow in September in a deal hailed as a first step towards ending five years of conflict.
The Netherlands said it had then immediately asked Moscow at the highest levels to hand him over for questioning over the 2014 downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane, but that Russia said it could not find him.
“According to media reports Mr Tsemakh had already returned to his residence in eastern Ukraine,” the Dutch prosecution service said in a statement.
“The Public Prosecution Service has concluded that Russia willingly allowed Mr Tsemakh to leave the Russian Federation and refused to execute the Dutch request, while under the European Convention on Extradition, it was obliged to do so.”
The convention is under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the continent’s foremost human rights body, which Moscow joined in 1996.
Dutch prosecutors said they “regard Tsemakh as a suspect”, and that they had questioned him in Kiev earlier this year following his arrest by Ukrainian government forces.
But Ukraine then handed him over to Russia as a key part of September’s swap, despite appeals by the Netherlands not to do so.
The Netherlands said it sent Russia an extradition request before the plane carrying him to Moscow had even landed as there were indications he wanted to flee to eastern Ukraine.
“The Russian Federation does not extradite its own citizens but since Mr Tsemakh is a Ukranian citizen, there were no impediments for his extradition,” it said.
But despite a personal appeal by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Russia said he could not be extradited “because no information regarding the whereabouts of Mr Tsemakh in the Russian Federation was available.”
The Dutch said the Tsemakh episode would have “no effect on the start of the MH17 criminal trial” on March 9. — AFP
The lawyer of so called key MH17 witness said that Vladimir Tsemakh is ready to provide testimony about the plane crash to Dutch or Ukrainian investigators, but only on the territory of self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine.
Tsemakh was previously captured by Ukrainian forces for the video where he is shown saying that he he commanded an anti-air brigade. He is thought to be a key witness in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July, 2014.
Tsemakh’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, in his European human rights court (EHRC) lawsuit against Kyiv and Amsterdam, said that in spite of the fear of testifying his client is ready to do it.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) published audio recordings of allegedly intercepted phone conversations of rebels of the Donetsk People's Republic with the Russian officials in July, 2014.
The first thing that sounds strange is the rebels used "the safe phones provided by the Russian security service". In fact, safe phones are designed to exclude the possibility of their listening as it is. In which way then did the Ukrainian security services succeed to intercept talks? This contradiction makes the whole case seem doubtful.
The time of the publication of these files also seems very suspicious. Why has the JIT decided to start searching for witnesses at this moment? The court hearings on the MH17 case are to begin in March 2020, and the Dutch investigators have no convincing evidence of Russian involvement. This may be the reason.
At the same time, Ukraine benefits from distracting the public attention from the case of Vladimir Tsemakh, a former chief of air defense sector in Donetsk People's Republic, who accused the Ukrainian intelligence agencies of kidnapping and torturing him.
Besides, the number of experts who doubt the conclusions of the JIT grows. The Dutch researcher Max van der Werff criticized the official investigation in his documentary The Call for Justice.
He also disproved the originality of phone conversations records of rebels accused of crash. The special software allowed the expert to find signs of falsification of the audio files, which were made of fragments of different voice messages.
The only source of this information is the State Security Service of Ukraine which soiled its reputation with the known falsifications and provocations like the imitation of journalist Babchenko murder.
Ukraine is an interested party in this case and it is impossible to call her the impartial participant of the investigative process. Anyway official Kiev should bear responsibility for the leaving the airspace over a combat zone open and not securing the flight.
The man was previously considered a witness in the case
The Netherlands has changed the status of Donetsk People’s Republic citizen Vladimir Tsemakh, who was previously considered a "person of interest" and was brought to Russia in a swap between Moscow and Kiev, into suspect in the investigation into the Malaysian Boeing 777 crash in Ukraine in 2014, the German Deutsche Welle state-owned public international broadcaster reported on Wednesday citing Dutch Member of the European Parliament Kati Piri.
According to the politician, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the Dutch prosecutor circulated a letter stating that Tsemakh is now considered to be one of the suspects. Piri underlined that Kiev’s decision to include him in the swap list was a painful one for her country and families of the victims.
On September 7, Moscow and Kiev swapped prisoners on the ‘35 for 35’
formula. Preparations for the prisoner swap intensified after Vladimir
Zelensky had been elected Ukraine’s president. Several weeks ago, the
negotiations entered an active phase and legal procedures began for the
two countries’ nationals who had been added to the list. On September 5,
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the exchange would be
massive and might be a step towards mending bilateral ties.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a Boeing-777 passenger plane traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down on July 17, 2014, over Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk. The crash killed all the 283 passengers, citizens of 10 countries, and 15 crew members. In spite of the active armed conflict on the ground, Kiev did not close its airspace over the Donbass region to international passenger flights. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) looking into the crash is made up of representatives from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. Russian officials have repeatedly expressed doubts and distrust of the results of its work, pointed to the groundless nature of arguments the accusations are based on and unwillingness to use Russian conclusions in the course of the investigation.
June 2018, Ukrainian intelligence agencies abducted Vladimir Tsemakh, a
resident of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and
former DPR air defense militia commander. He was secretly taken to Kiev
from across the line of contact in Donbass. The DPR authorities demanded
that their citizen be returned and called on international human rights
organizations to intervene. According to DPR head Denis Pushilin,
Ukraine abducted Tsemakh with the intention to fabricate the
circumstances of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash.
Tsemakh was among those released on September 7 in accordance with
the agreement reached by Russia and Ukraine to swap detainees. Prior to
his release, Tsemakh was interrogated by Dutch prosecutors.
Some Western observers are criticizing a Ukrainian court's decision on Thursday to release Volodymyr Tsemakh, a "person of interest" in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) more than five years ago.
The decision, handed down by the Kyiv Court of Appeal, comes amid talks between Moscow and Kyiv on a prisoner swap that unconfirmed reports have said includes Tsemakh, a Ukrainian citizen who reportedly oversaw an anti-aircraft unit among rebels stationed near the commercial airliner's crash site in eastern Ukraine.
Shortly after reports of Tsemakh's release circulated, Russian
President Vladimir Putin told reporters gathered at the Eastern Economic
Forum in Vladivostok that he believes the swap is imminent and will be
"rather large-scale, and a good step forward toward normalization [of
relations with Ukraine]."
In the swap, which is largely viewed as a pre-condition to quadrilateral "Normandy format" peace talks tentatively scheduled for later this month, Kyiv is seeking the return of 24 sailors detained by Russia last year off Crimea, as well as filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and others, whom rights groups and the government in Kyiv say are "political prisoners" in Russia.
Last week, a Ukrainian court released Vyshinsky on his own
recognizance as he awaits trial on charges of high treason that were
brought against him in 2018.
Tsemakh's release also comes a day after a group of members of the European Parliament wrote a letter urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy not to include Tsemakh in any deal, calling him a "key suspect" in the missile launch.
Officials from an international Dutch-led investigation have voiced concerns that transferring Tsemakh to Russian soil will make it impossible to question him about the case.
Peace vs. prosecution
International observers such as Bloomberg's Leonid Bershidsky say Tsemakh's release is an indication that the newly-elected Ukrainian president "is willing to use his considerable political capital ... to prioritize humanitarian matters."
"Such an approach would make it likely that (Zelenskiy) would also favor a broad amnesty for the separatists once the 'people's republics' rejoin Ukraine," he wrote, adding that Tsemakh's trade shows that Zelenskiy's "desire to end the war trumps all other considerations."
Security analyst Christo Grozev, with research group Bellingcat, first reported that Tsemakh might be released as part of the prisoner exchange. Grozev says Kremlin demands for Tsemakh's release are part of a broader effort to delegitimize the MH17 investigation.
"It's not going to change the amount of evidence the investigation
team has gathered — the proof will still be there — but there will be
significant damage done to the perceived legitimacy of the court
procedures, or at least that's what the Kremlin will try to argue,"
Grozev told VOA.
Without an indicted suspect or witness to take the stand in a
Netherlands courtroom, Grozev said, Russia won't need to send a legal
team, giving the court procedures the appearance of a one-sided case.
Three Russians and a Ukrainian were indicted over the downing of
flight MH17, and court proceedings in the Netherlands are scheduled for
March. But the four suspects most likely will be tried in absentia.
Although Tsemakh was not one of the four indicted, Grozev calls him the only person who had been in Ukrainian custody and who could firmly link high-ranking Russian military personnel to the 2014 disappearance.
"The Dutch investigators will be looking for the chain of command, people who gave the instructions, and not the soldiers."
Threats and denials
Russia has always denied responsibility for shooting down the commercial passenger flight and claimed last year that the Buk missile came from Ukrainian army arsenals.
Conflict in Ukraine has killed an estimated 13,000 people since 2014. Although a cease-fire deal ended major conflict there in 2015, small-scale clashes still occur regularly.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) apprehended Tsemakh on June 27 in the Donetsk regional city of Snizhne.
According to the Dutch-led investigation, the Buk missile was fired six kilometers south of Snizhne.
Kiev's Court of Appeal canceled the arrest of Vladimir Tsemakh, a witness in the MH17 crash case, and ruled to release him immediately in the courtroom.
According to Ukrainian media reports, Russia insists that Tsemakh should be included in the list of detainees who will participate in the Russia-Ukraine prisoner exchange.
"To cancel the decision of ... Kiev's district court ... to extend the constraint measure of Vladimir Tsemakh in the form of arrest by October 20 ... To release Vladimir Tsemakh on personal recognizance ... immediately in the courtroom," the judge read out the court ruling.
He was released from custody but the court said his movements would continue to be restricted pending his trial in October.