The investigation into the crash of the MH17 is beyond all bounds and is incomparable with other investigations, according to the criminal investigation prosecutor of the National Public Prosecutor’s Office and the leader of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

Anyone who regularly follows the media is probably familiar with the term TGO when it comes to (police) investigations into very serious offences. TGO stands for Large Scale Investigation Team. In practice, this means that the head of the police investigation unit together with the criminal investigation prosecutor of a regional district public prosecutor’s office (Public Prosecution Service, hereafter: OM) decides on deploying the necessary amount of investigative capacity as quickly as possible. As a rule, this applies to 20 detectives, whether or not supplemented with specialists and led by one or two prosecutors. TGOs usually involve crimes against the life of one or more persons. In addition, investigative services and OM still conduct project-based investigations with which specialised teams sometimes work for years. This often involves investigations into serious, organised crime.

Beyond all bounds

The investigation into the crash of the MH17 is beyond all bounds and is incomparable with other investigations, according to the criminal investigation prosecutor of the National Public Prosecutor’s Office Evert Harderwijk and the leader of the JIT, Gerrit Thiry. "There are more investigations with many victims, there are more investigations of which the crime scene is abroad, there are more investigations where the crime scene is not directly accessible and there are more investigations that are legally complex and take a long time, but in our career of more than 30 years we have not previously participated in an investigation as large and as wide as this one", according to the investigation specialists.

In his capacity as criminal investigation prosecutor of the National Public Prosecutor's Office, Evert Harderwijk supervises the investigation where it concerns the contents of the investigation. A criminal investigation prosecutor is responsible for the quality of the prosecutors of his public prosecutor's office and together with the team leader of the criminal investigation department he is responsible for the quality of the investigators and the division of the investigative capacity. "I especially tried to enable the prosecutors and police officers in charge to do their work, to make sure that the investigation could be done in the right way." Harderwijk mentions the somewhat older but very important example of the return of the bodies of the victims. "That had to be done carefully and respectfully, and after their identification the bodies had to be returned to the next of kin as soon as possible. However, the possible remnants of any weapon had to be safeguarded, in the interest of the investigation and the discovery of the truth. We only had one chance that time and we had to grab it, with a view to possible legal proceedings."

Photo: reconstruction of MH17 airport Gilze-Rijen

Many involved

"Hundreds of people were initially working on this investigation under the supervision of eight prosecutors. Depending on the necessity, people have joined in the course of time, but manpower has also left the investigation," Gerrit Thiry says. And, of course, expertise from other services has been required. "What about radar experts, missile specialists, weapon and explosion specialists, aviation specialists?"

Still a large scale operation

The team that was initially involved was reduced in the course of the investigation, but has recently been extended to some 50 people. That is still a very large team. "Other expertise is needed now than in the beginning of the investigation, so we call upon that expertise", says Gerrit Thiry. From the beginning, he has been in charge of the day-to-day management of the investigation team which has its offices at a fixed location in the middle of the country. The team also includes people from the other JIT countries. "We all work together", according to Thiry.

"The involvement with the case and the international interest in the investigation are still enormous. Sometimes it means that you have to inform and involve a lot of parties in the decision-making process", according to Harderwijk.

We will go on

As you know, the investigation is not yet finished. At the moment, for example, the results of the public call for new relevant information made in May 2018 are being investigated. But for the moment we cannot and do not want to say anything about the contents of those results. However, the investigators want to say that they will continue, just until it is sufficiently clear who is responsible for the events on 17 July 2014. "Only then and not before we will stop."

'This investigation grabs you by the throat'

Gerrit Thiry, team leader of the National Police, has given an interview in the internal police magazine ‘Blauw’  The article was published in April 2018.

Read the full article in the attachment