Dutch prosecutors have asked the Russian Federation to extradite Ukrainian citizen Volodymyr Tsemakh, in connection with the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. Mr Tsemakh is both a key witness and a potential suspect in respect of the attack on the aircraft which resulted in the deaths of 298 people, 196 of whom were citizens of the Netherlands.
Mr Tsemakh was arrested in June of this year as part of a raid by Ukrainian special forces and was charged with terrorism offences for his reported role as commander of a separatist air defence unit in occupied Donbas in July 2014. He indicated previously that he had hidden evidence of a BUK anti-aircraft missile, the same type of missile identified by the Dutch led Joint Investigation Team as having shot down the jet.
On 5 September Kyiv’s Court of Appeal released Mr Tsemakh, pending trial on the terrorism charges, on the condition he did not leave his place of permanent residence. At this time, reports had begun to circulate that Mr Tsemakh was on a list of prisoners under consideration by the Ukrainian government to form part of a prisoner exchange with Russia.
It has been reported that Mr Tsemakh’s inclusion was essential to securing Russian agreement to the swap which saw 35 prisoners released from both countries. Despite an appeal to Ukraine by 40 members of the European parliament and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Mr Tsemakh’s release to Moscow went ahead on 7 September 2019. Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, stated that Mr Tsemakh had been questioned by Dutch investigators prior to the exchange.
In response to questions about the Dutch extradition request, the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated that Mr Tsemakh’s legal status must first be considered by the Russian Human Rights Commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova. Ms Moskalkova stated that she had no information about the Dutch request and that questions on the matter should be directed to the prosecution service.
Russian law prevents the extradition of its own citizens but as a non-national, Mr Tsemakh does not benefit from such protection.