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Flight MH17 suspect released by Ukraine, trial remains pending

Flight MH17 suspect released by Ukraine, trial remains pending
Highlights

A court in Ukraine on Thursday released from pre-trial detention a man suspected of involvement in the downing of flight MH17, amid speculation he might be used in a prisoner swap with Russia.

Kiev: A court in Ukraine on Thursday released from pre-trial detention a man suspected of involvement in the downing of flight MH17, amid speculation he might be used in a prisoner swap with Russia.

Ukraine captured Vladimir Tsemakh, accused of fighting for pro-Russian separatists, in June, but he is believed to be a person of interest in the downing of MH17. European lawmakers described him as a "key suspect" and asked Kiev to make him available for testimony in the probe. An AFP journalist saw Tsemakh being released after appellate court judge Yury Sliva in Kiev ruled to release him, cautioning him to remain available for questioning and not attempt to flee.

Tzemach is a Ukrainian who is believed to have been in charge of an air defence unit in the forces of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic near Snizhne in eastern Ukraine. This is where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 came down in 2014, killing 298 people, most of them Dutch citizens. Through his involvement in MH17 has never been confirmed by Ukraine, 40 European lawmakers on Wednesday asked President Volodymyr Zelensky to make sure he is available to be questioned by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team.

Russian and Ukrainian media have reported that Moscow is demanding that Tsemakh be handed over to Russia as part of an expected prisoner swap between two countries. Several high-profile Ukrainian prisoners are to be released from Russian jails under the swap.

Dutch MEP Kati Piri said demanding the exchange of Tsemakh is a "strange request" which "suggests that the Russian government wants to prevent this suspect from appearing in court". Dutch investigators say the plane was shot down by a BUK anti-aircraft missile that originated from the Russian military's 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade after it was transported to Snizhne from Russia.

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