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Family of US teen killed in downing of MH17 sues Russian banks, US money firms

Investigation of the crash site of MH-17 by Dutch and Australian police officers. (Dutch Ministry of Defense/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The family of the only American killed when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in 2014 have filed suit against two Russian banks and U.S. money-transfer firms for allegedly providing services to Russia-backed separatists accused of shooting the plane down over Ukraine.

The complaint was filed on April 4 in U.S. federal court by the family of Quinn Lucas Schansman and targeted Russia’s Sberbank and VTB Bank and the Western Union Co., Western Union Financial Services, MoneyGram International, and MoneyGram Payment System.

The suit seeks unspecified damages from the companies for the death of the 18-year-old Schansman.

MH17 was shot down over the conflict zone in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

The Joint Investigative Team (JIT), comprising authorities from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine, determined that a Buk missile that struck the passenger jet came from Russia’s 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade and was fired from territory held by the Russia-backed separatists.

Many of the JIT’s findings have been corroborated or supported by evidence gathered by journalists and independent investigators such as the British-based Bellingcat.

About two-thirds of the people killed were Dutch citizens. The Netherlands has been one of the main driving forces behind seeking accountability for the attack.

The lawsuit accuses the Russian banks and U.S. money-transfer firms of allowing large amounts of money, mainly from Russian-diaspora sympathizers, to be sent to the separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine.

The funds allowed the separatists to acquire heavy weapons and to control many regions in eastern Ukraine, the 63-page suit alleges.

“We realize that we will never get our son back. But we are committed to shedding light on — and holding accountable — all who participated in his murder,” the victim’s father, Thomas Schansman, said in a statement.

The suit is based on a 1992 U.S. anti-terror law that allows U.S. victims of terrorism to sue those who provide material support to those carrying out the attacks.

“The men who launched the missile may never be hauled before a court to answer for their crimes, but all of those who participated in arming them and supporting them must be,” said David Pressman, a former deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN and one of the family’s lawyers.

Moscow has repeatedly denied responsibility for the downing of the plane and has blamed Ukrainian forces for firing the deadly missile.