By Evan Jones, Sydney
The MH17 was brought down over six years ago. John Helmer, with others, has compiled a book on the farce that has attended the pursuit of cause and culprits. Australia’s involvement is peculiarly both integral and marginal.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down over Eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. All 298 people on board lost their lives – including 196 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 38 Australian.
Overseen by the Dutch, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was established in August 2014, formally comprising personnel from the Netherlands. Ukraine, Australia and Belgium. Malaysia itself was not admitted to the JIT until late November, reputedly because of its scepticism towards the Ukrainian version of the cause of the shoot-down and who was responsible.
Before anybody had inspected the site, that line was that Russia and/or pro-Russian rebels against Kiev did it. The weapon was a Buk ground-to-air missile, the launcher brought in from Russia and returned after the dirty deed.
The JIT investigation and Dutch court case is effectively a Dutch-Ukrainian affair. As Helmer et.al (henceforth Helmer) note, Ukraine possesses the ‘right as a JIT member to veto what is investigated, what is disclosed, who to convict’ (Ch.6). Belgium (4 nationals dead) is out of picture. Australia is both inside and outside the tent.
Site material reclaimed is partial, and evidence is spotty. Ukrainian air traffic control data have not been released. However, two forms of evidence, Australian-linked, appears to be atypically decisive, at least in a negative sense.
Left, Associate Professor Evan Jones is a retired political economist, based in Sydney. He taught at the University of Sydney from 1973 until 2006. Right, click to read the book. 
Helmer (Ch.6): ‘Two reports by Australian coronial investigators, David Ranson, a pathologist from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and Iain West, deputy coroner for the state of Victoria, have revealed the cause of death of the victims, ruling out shrapnel from an exploding Buk missile warhead. The first Ranson-West report, released in November 2014, [is outlined] here. A second report, eight pages in length and written by Ranson, followed a month later. This was sent to the Victorian State Coroner, Judge Ian Gray. …
‘To date, the consensus identification of the external blast source is a point to the left of the aircraft, forward of the left wing. … The record by [Dutch pathologist George] Maat’s Australian team members at [Dutch military base] Hilversum is that no Buk detonation could have taken place without filling the bodies of passengers on the left (port), forward side of the cabin, but the evidence of the bodies shows this didn’t happen.’
The Ranson report was released to victims’ families, discussed with the Australian Federal Police, and to select others. Ranson and West also spoke on the matter at the Asia-Pacific Coroners Society Conference in Melbourne on 14 November. However the material has subsequently been classified. Why?
The sister of the Malaysian MH17 pilot went to Halversum to inspect her brother’s body. She claimed that (Ch.8) ‘she had seen a film of his body and had been told by investigators there were no shrapnel or bullet wounds’. Her response was deflected in the Dutch media.
The Abbott government was in place. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had a priori opinions on whodunnit (Chs.8 & 9). In early November, Abbott claimed: ‘“We were given very strong security advice [that is, from the Americans] in the days following the atrocity as to the type of weapon, as to the place from where the weapon was fired and as to the likely prominence of the weapon and there’s been nothing since then to question that original security advice.”’
Left, CIA Director John Brennan met in Australia with former prime minister Tony Abbott (right) in October 2015 to thank him for his support of Agency operations. Abbott had been ousted as prime minister days earlier .
Their interests ran contrary to the information that Coroner Gray had in his possession. Abbott, titular Rhodes Scholar, had trouble reconciling his will, impetuous, with the forensic evidence produced by Australian specialists.
According to former Army officer James Brown in 2016, Abbott had initially offered to send Australian troops to control the crash site. Brown is Malcolm Turnbull’s son-in-law and apparent conduit for Turnbull’s exposé of Cabinet activity. Abbott then willingly brought Australia into an American-hatched idea to send Dutch and Australian troops (of which 3,000) into Eastern Ukraine (Ch.18), with logistic support from others. Germany said it’s not on; the Dutch then said it’s unrealistic. But Abbott had the Australian military and security establishment in knots even after the potential European partners had pulled the plug.
Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister in September 2015, bringing his own brand of ambiguity to the fog. Turnbull promised the victims’ families action to find and prosecute those responsible, wanted to blame the Russians, yet was more circumspect than Abbott. Turnbull declined to issue certification as to the crash’s cause that would open the way for the Australian government to pay compensation to the families under the Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas Act.
There was another source of dissidence from Australian specialists. The Dutch Safety Board, officially responsible for investigations, had quickly (with Ukrainian and American governments’ support) attributed the aircraft’s demise to a Buk missile. Yet the senior figure in the Australian contingent, the AFP’s Detective Superintendent Andrew Donoghue, urged caution. Helmer notes (Ch.14), citing Donoghue before a Victorian Coroners Court hearing 15 December 2015, ‘“initial information that the aircraft was shot down by a [Buk] surface to air missile” did not meet the Australian or international standard of evidence’.
In court, the forensic pathologist repeated conclusions contained in his late 2014 reports that no ‘distinctive pre-formed’ metal fragments had been found in the two CT scans of the Australian victim bodies.
Donoghue also noted that, courtesy of secret Australian government negotiations with Novorussian leaders, his Australian team had belatedly gained access to the crash site, in the face of Ukrainian government-enforced restrictions. Donoghue reported that some potential witnesses who had come forward refused to testify unless provided protection from Kiev reprisals.
Bizarrely, Deputy Coroner West’s judgment defied the evidence before him from Donoghue and Ranson, claiming that the Dutch Safety Board had it right in determining that a Russian Buk missile had caused the MH17’s destruction. This in spite of the fact that West’s name is attached to the first Ranson report of November 2014 which (with the second December report) notes the absence of metal fragments in the bodies that a Buk missile warhead would have produced.
In March 2017, then Attorney General George Brandis delivered to Prime Minister Turnbull advice that there remains (Helmer) ‘insufficient evidence of what and who caused the MH17 crash to meet the Australian statutory test of a terrorist act’ (Ch.21). Apart from attribution of guilt to culprits, there is the necessity to prove malicious intent.
Several days previously, the Ukrainian government (Helmer) ‘had applied to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to convict Russia of financing, arming and aiding terrorist acts, including the destruction of MH17’. Australian legal opinion thus undermined the Ukrainian government’s move, as well as the Joint Investigation Team’s renewed claim in September 2016 (Ch.18) that the Russians and the Ukrainian rebels reliant on them were responsible. The Dutch and Ukrainians aren’t listening.
Yet Turnbull continued to publicly blame Russia. On 5 March, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Turnbull, in the context of a stoush with Senator Pauline Hanson, thus:
‘But Mr Turnbull said there was no doubt Russia was involved in the 2014 “murder”. “Vladimir Putin’s Russia is subject to international sanctions, to which Australia is a part, because of his conduct in shooting down the MH17 airliner in which 38 Australians were killed. Let’s not forget that,” he said. “That was a shocking international crime. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not, and should not be, an object of admiration in any respect.”’
Turnbull was wearing two hats – one as lawyer, the other as politician.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, electioneering in Queensland October 2016; he replaced Abbott as prime minister in September 2015. Right, Turnbull with Australian troops in Afghanistan, April 2017.
Part Three of Helmer’s book (‘The standard of proof’) is devoted to the Dutch prosecutor’s absence of proof. Part Four is devoted to the trial of four accused individuals – three Russians and a Ukrainian – amidst disdain for the absence of proof, involving a travesty of Dutch law itself.
The farcical character of the proceedings has been ignored in the Australian media. The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) is representative.
The SMH did report (8 March 2020) the disgust of the Russian Ambassador to Australia at the lack of evidence for the ‘official’ accusations of Russian guilt.
The SMH also gave voice to one Jerry Skinner (27 May 2018), an American lawyer, flamboyantly seeking victim family clients to sue first Malaysia then the innately evil Russians for their murderous act. Skinner claims to have ‘helped negotiate $2.7 billion from the Libyan government to compensate families of victims of the Lockerbie air disaster’. Given that the Libyans were not responsible for this atrocity (see Helmer’s Ch.25), Skinner’s talents are evidently remarkable. Helmer deals with Skinner and his litigious law firm in Chs.16 & 23.
The bulk of SMH coverage of the MH17 crash and the investigatory and legal aftermath has been carried by successive London-based correspondents Nick Miller and Bevan Shields. Miller and Shields have dutifully repeated the Western correct line without deviation.
What and who to believe? The detached Australian might ask, how could Dutch authorities be engaged in skulduggery? Aren’t the Dutch a decent and progressive people?
Well not quite. As is noted of the MH17 book’s co-author: Max van der Werff, he ‘began his career as a citizen journalist investigating the torture of civilians by the Dutch colonial administration during the Indonesian war for independence’.
As legal academic Ramses Wessels reported in 2008, the Netherlands opportunistically abandoned its previous neutrality in joining NATO in 1949. Wessels notes: ‘During the Cold War, the Netherlands proved to be an active and loyal member of the Alliance, which allowed for a much larger role in international affairs than its size would justify.’ Ah, punching above their weight – where have we heard that before?
The Netherlands continues its allegiance to what has become, following the fall of the Soviet Union, a transparently criminal organisation.
As for the economy, the opportunistic Netherlands has probably been the second biggest beneficiary after Germany of the European Union and its exploitative hierarchy. Not content with its perennial trade surplus, the Netherlands has turned itself into a tax haven at the heart of the EU (documented meticulously by Gabriel Zucman), that status becoming particularly attractive to trans-border European companies (such as Airbus and Peugeot/Fiat).
In short, predictably, the Netherlands has no principles, only interests. And thus it is with the MH17 show trial.
In the meantime, the victims’ families are treated as mere pawns in a brutal revamping of the Cold War, with the post-coup Ukraine dictating terms via the seemingly respectable Dutch court system. It is a phenomenon beneath contempt. You’ll have to read Helmer et.al because you won’t read about it in the Australian MSM.
[*] This review has been banned from publication in Australia.