Pulatov’s lawyer, Boudewijn van Eijck, told the court on Monday that a lengthy international investigation – of which the Australian Federal Police played a leading role – was flawed and failed to properly examine how else the plane may have been destroyed.
“Objective fact-finding has very much been put on the backburner in this case,” Van Eijck said.
He raised a series of theories, including the possibility that a Ukrainian fighter jet used MH17 as a “human shield” by flying so close to the aircraft that people on the ground would be deterred from targeting Kyiv’s war planes given the risk of hitting a commercial carrier.
The court has previously been shown radar evidence that no fighter jets were in the region at the time.
“Although this scenario might seem unlikely, it is important that this scenario is investigated to exclude it,” Van Eijck told the panel of judges.
He also alleged evidence could have been “planted” at the crash site but offered no proof to support that claim.
Many of the theories advanced by Pulatov’s team have previously been pushed by the Russian state or Russian media loyalists.
The defence also took aim at Ukraine’s security agency, the SBU, which was involved in the investigation alongside experts from Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Malaysia.
“The remit and methods of security services, such as the SBU, do not focus on primarily uncovering the truth but rather they focus on serving the national interest, and I’d like to take you back to a recent point in history,” Can Eijck said.
He then played a video of former US secretary of state Colin Powell arguing in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq was necessary because Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The video then featured Powell’s later admissions that the intelligence was based on flawed evidence and unreliable witnesses.
Van Eijck urged the judges to allow for further investigation into every possible scenario behind the plane’s downing.
A positive ruling by the judges would likely delay the trial for years and involve dozens if not hundreds of new witness interviews.
The case could still be delayed even if the defence strategy is rejected, with Van Eijck suggesting alleged holes in the investigation could trigger an appeal if Pulatov was convicted.
“Our request should be warmly received, partly in order to make sure that this case never has to be reviewed or appealed,” he said.
The international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) did examine a series of potential causes for the crash – including mechanical error – but excluded all of them over recent years.
However Van Eijck argued the JIT only looked at those scenarios with “the purpose of disproving them”.
He claimed the investigation was flawed because prosecutors could not say who ordered the missile to be fired and why, as well as who physically pressed the launch button. The JIT is still examining those questions and has hopes to lay further charges.
“In order to assess the accusations against the defendant, it is essential for the final parts of this investigation to be known,” Van Eijck said.
“If the chain of command and the responsibilities associated with it are completely unknown then how can we assess that Pulatov had any responsibility?”
Igor Girkin, a former colonel of the Russian Federal Security Service; Sergey Dubinsky, a former member of the Russian military intelligence service; and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian who commanded a combat unit in the Donetsk region, are also charged with bringing down the plane and the murder of everyone on board.
They are being tried in absentia. Only Pulatov has engaged legal representatives.
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.