By Shakeh Avoyan
Tatul Manaserian, an Armenian opposition lawmaker arrested in the United States last January, has been cleared of child kidnapping and set free by a California court, his family and government officials said on Friday.
But they said his return to Armenia is now hampered by fresh accusations that he violated U.S. immigration rules.
Shortly after his arrested at the Dulles airport in Washington Manaserian was charged with three counts of “child-stealing” and one of an armed assault stemming from his 1997 custody dispute with his Los Angeles-based former wife over their son. Each of the accusations carries up to four years in prison.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Manaserian was released following a brief court hearing in California’s San Bernardino County on Thursday. “There was a trial yesterday and he was cleared of all accusations,” ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL.
Gasparian said the trial was held earlier than expected because of the March 7 incident in a local prison in which Manaserian was allegedly assaulted and injured by a fellow detainee. There have been conflicting reports in the Armenian press about circumstances of the incidents.
Gasparian said U.S. immigration authorities now suspect Manaserian of a minor violation of the visa regime. “American judicial authorities have to make a decision regarding that. We don’t know yet what that decision could be,” he said without elaborating.
In Yerevan, meanwhile, the lawmaker’s relatives discussed the situation with U.S. Ambassador John Ordway. His present wife Irina said Ordway told them that the Armenian embassy in Washington can easily sort out the problem and ensure his quick repatriation. She said her husband, who complained about health problems during his imprisonment, is now “recuperating” in a Los Angeles hospital.
A senior member of Armenia’s largest opposition alliance, Manaserian lived and worked in the U.S. from 1992 through 1997. He returned home with his teenage son who was said to have been flown to Armenia without the consent of his mother and Manaserian’s ex-wife, Nune Simonian.