Malaysian PM says Russia being made a scapegoat for downing of flight MH17

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday Russia is being made a scapegoat for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and questioned the objectivity of the investigations into the 2014 disaster.

The international investigative team set up to look into the crash said on Wednesday three Russians and one Ukrainian will face murder charges for the deaths of 298 people aboard the flight that was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

"We are very unhappy, because from the very beginning it was a political issue on how to accuse Russia of the wrongdoing," Mahathir told reporters at a government event.

"Even before they examine, they already said Russia. And now they said they have proof. It is very difficult for us to accept that."

MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone on board was killed.

Russia has denied any involvement.

Mahathir's remarks seemed at odds with comments a day earlier from Malaysia's representative on the five-country joint investigative team set up to prosecute suspects.

At a press conference in the Netherlands on Wednesday, the Dutch-led international team named four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the suspects were believed to be responsible for bringing a Russian-made missile into eastern Ukraine "with the aim to shoot down an airplane".

At the same press conference, Malaysian prosecutor Mohamad Hanafiah bin Zakaria told reporters the findings "are based on extensive investigations and also legal research."

"We support the findings," he said. The three other members of the team are from Australia, Ukraine and Belgium.

Moscow has called the murder charges against the Russian suspects groundless.

Mahathir said he did not think the Russians were involved and that the investigative team's findings were based on "hearsay".

"I expect everybody to go for the truth," he said.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Heavens)