Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says he does not believe Russia launched the BUK missile that brought down MH17, killing all 298 on board, including one New Zealander and 38 Australians.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
New Zealander Rob Ayley, 27, who lived in Otaki with his wife Sharlene and two young children, was the only New Zealand victim of the crash.
Last year Australia and The Netherlands accused the Russian Federation of direct involvement in the plane's fate after Dutch investigators announced they had "legal and convincing evidence that would stand up in a courtroom".
The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) — comprising investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — released a report in May 2018 stating that the missile system used to bring down the plane was owned by the Russian army.
"Based on these findings, the only conclusion we can reasonably now draw is that Russia was directly involved in the downing of MH17," Australia's then-prime minister and foreign minister Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop said in a joint statement.
"The Russian Federation must be held to account for its conduct in the downing of MH17 over eastern Ukraine, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 298 passengers and crew, including 38 people who called Australia home."
But in a bombshell speech to the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) on Thursday, Dr Mahathir was having none of it, accusing those who blamed Russia of scapegoating the nation for "political" reasons.
Mahathir said his government agreed the plane was brought down by a Russian missile but could not be certain the missile was launched by Russia.
"They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence? We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine," Dr Mahathir told the JFCC.
"You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians, it could be by the rebels in Ukraine, it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile."
Mahathir said it was unfeasible that the Russians, with all their military expertise, would not know that MH17 was a passenger plane.
"I don't think a very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile," he said.
However, Dutch investigators say there is video and photo evidence showing the BUK system involved in the incident came from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade based in Kursk, western Russia.
They say that evidence shows the missile had crossed the border into eastern Ukraine from Russia and returned after the plane had been shot down.
Investigative website Bellingcat had previously traced the weapon to the same brigade using open-source information.
Mahathir also claimed there was a sinister reason behind the decision to exclude Malaysian investigators from the black box examination.
"We may not have the expertise but we can buy the expertise. For some reason, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened," he told the JFCC.
"We don't know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it and the idea was to find out how this happened but seems to be concentrated on trying to pin it to the Russians.
"This is not a neutral kind of examination."
Mahathir is known to enjoy a good conspiracy theory and it's not the first time his opinions have raised eyebrows.
Last year he speculated Malaysia Airlines flight 370 — which vanished three months before MH17 was shot down and has never been found — was taken over remotely to foil a hijacking.
"It was reported in 2006 that Boeing was given a licence to operate the takeover of a hijacked plane while it is flying so I wonder whether that's what happened," the 92-year-old told The Australian.
"The capacity to do that is there. The technology is there," he added of his theory.
MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Satellite and radar data indicates the Boeing 777 made a sharp detour towards Australia, flying for several hours before crashing in a remote part of the Southern Indian Ocean off WA.
Since then, dozens of suspected aircraft debris has washed up on coastlines off Africa but only a handful of pieces — including a barnacle-encrusted wing part called a flaperon — have been confirmed as MH370 wreckage.
The fuselage and black box have never been found.
Meanwhile, negotiations between Australia, The Netherlands and Russia over the criminal investigation into MH17 are continuing.