There are “strong indications” that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved the decision to provide separatists in Ukraine with the missile that shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, Dutch investigators said Wednesday.
Citing intercepted telephone conversations by Russian government officials, the Public Prosecution Service’s Joint Investigation Team said there were “strong indications that in Russia, the president made the decision about the provision of the Buk-TELAR to separatists of the DPR,” or the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, in eastern Ukraine.
Investigators nonetheless said that “the high bar of full and conclusive evidence is not met,” and that regardless, as a head of state, Putin has immunity from prosecution. The Joint Investigation Team said that it had shared its findings with the families of the 298 victims.
CNN has reached out to the Kremlin for reaction. Moscow has repeatedly denied any responsibility for the attack, and Russian officials and state media have put out a range of often contradictory explanations for the tragedy.
Flight MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it was shot out of the sky over territory held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed.
Dutch investigators had already concluded that the missile that downed MH17 was a Russian Buk rocket, fired from a launcher belonging to Russia’s 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade. A Dutch court in November found two Russians and a separatist Ukrainian guilty of mass murder for their involvement in the downing of MH17.
In their newest finding, investigators say that DPR leaders appeared to be in “close contact” with Kremlin advisers and the Russian intelligence service.
“After the separatists ask for anti-aircraft guns with higher range, their request is in the second half of June 2014 discussed at the Presidential administration in Moscow. That is a state body that supports the president. After this, the request for a heavier air defense system is presented to the minister of Defense and the president,” investigators told the Dutch court on Wednesday.
The investigators say that the separatists’ request was approved.
“In recorded telephone conversations, Russian government officials say that the decision about military support rests with the president,” the Joint Investigation Team said. “The decision is even delayed a week ‘because there is only one who makes a decision […] the person who is at a summit in France.’ President Putin at that time, on 5 and 6 June 2014, was at the D Day commemoration in France.
“There is concrete information that the request from the separatists is presented to the president, and that a positive decision is taken. It is unknown whether the request explicitly mentions a Buk system. A short time later, heavy air-defense systems were delivered, including the Buk that later shot down MH17.”
The investigators said that there was not strong enough evidence to begin any new prosecutions.
“Because at this moment it cannot be determined who the operators of the Buk-TELAR were, and other concrete information about this is lacking, it cannot be determined why they fired a Buk rocket at MH17, what their mission was, and what information they had at the moment of firing.”