The families of victims of the downed Malaysian Airlines MH17, which blew up over Ukraine a year ago today, have filed an $850m (£543.78m, €780.3m) claim against a former leader of Ukrainian insurgents, Igor Strelkov.

A writ, filed in Chicago on Wednesday (16 July) claims that Strelkov, a Russian citizen was acting with the "actual or apparent" authority of President Vladimir Putin's government when the commercial passenger aircraft was blown up, killing all 298 people on-board.

AFP said the relatives of 17 victims from the UK, South Africa, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Indonesia, are represented by a US-based firm specialising in aviation litigation. It is claiming $50m (£32m; €46m) for each victim.

One of the victims has also filed a case against Malaysia Airlines, claiming the airline operated the flight over an "internationally recognised conflict zone."

Wisner is using the US Torture Victim Protection Act to file the case, which covers extra judicial killings and can be used by foreign nationals, the BBC reports.

The news agency says that Strelkov, who also goes by the name of Igor Girkin, is a self-proclaimed former Russian intelligence agent who spearheaded the Ukrainian insurgency until last August. He is now based in Russia.

Strelkov criticises families over filing of lawsuit

Pro-Russian separatist military commander Igor Strelkov
Pro-Russian separatist military commander Igor Strelkov Reuters

His wife, Miroslava, told a Russian radio that the former rebel has declined to comment on the lawsuit. "What does he have to do with this anyway?" she asks.

In an online comment later yesterday, the rebel said he did not have the money sought by the victims' families and derided them for valuing the lives of their loved ones in monetary terms.

"All their morality and all their 'universal human values' have a monetary equivalent. That is what I've been fighting my whole life and am ready to fight in the future," he said.

Lawsuit not about money but finding answers, says lawyer

US attorney Floyd Wisner told AFP that the lawsuit was not about money but finding answers to the downing of the aircraft and brining the perpetrators to justice.

"Our clients do not want their terrible losses to be forgotten. We believe Mr Girkin has important information about these acts and we challenge him to appear and respond to this lawsuit," Wisner said in a statement.

The court papers say that MH17 flew over the airspace of the area in which the "rebel army was waging its war activities and the rebel under the command responsibility of defendant Girkin shot down" the Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

It says Girkin "ordered, aided and/or abetted this action and/or conspired with those persons who fired the missile or missiles."

Both Ukraine and the West have accused the separatists of using a Buk surface-to-air missile supplied by Moscow to down the aircraft while Russia has suggested that a Ukrainian missile was responsible.

Putin, who was speaking to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte yesterday said that setting up an international tribunal as requested by Malaysia and other countries would be both premature and counterproductive.

Malaysia formally asked the United Nations earlier this month to set up a tribunal to look into downing of the aircraft.