By Karine Kalantarian
An Armenian man who took refuge in Armenia after allegedly murdering a woman in California will not be extradited to the United States and will be tried in his hometown instead, prosecutors in Yerevan said on Monday.
U.S. law-enforcement authorities say Artur Khanzadian, strangled his ethnic Armenian girlfriend, Audette Tsaturian, to death in his car in a Los Angeles suburban last September and fled the country two days later. The Armenian police, alerted by their U.S. counterparts, tracked down and arrested him in his brother’s home in the northern town of Vanadzor last December.
An Armenian prosecutor investigating the case, Bagrat Petrosian, told RFE/RL that Khanzadian, who had emigrated to the United States in 2001, gave “false testimony” to three FBI agents that questioned him in a Vanadzor jail but later confessed to the crime during subsequent questioning by Armenian investigators. Petrosian said the suspect told them that he murdered the U.S. citizen out of jealousy.
The Los Angeles police, meanwhile, filed an extradition request with Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General. According to Petrosian, it was turned down because Armenia’s constitutions forbids handover of Armenian nationals to countries with which Yerevan has no extradition agreements. The U.S. is one of them.
Khanzadian, who has been charged under an article of the Armenian criminal code calling for up to 12 years’ imprisonment, will therefore go on trial in Vanadzor, the prosecutor said, adding that the first court hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday. It will apparently be the first time that a citizen of Armenia is tried for a crime allegedly committed in U.S. territory.
Khanzadian’s extradition has also been demanded by Adam Schiff, a staunchly pro-Armenian member of the U.S. Congress representing a California constituency where Tsaturian’s parents live. In a June 13 letter to President Robert Kocharian, he argued that the suspect can not face an “effective prosecution” in Armenia.
“The crimes to which Mr. Khanzadian has confessed took place in California, the families of both the victim and the suspect reside in Glendale, and all of the evidence collected in the case has been carefully documented by the appropriate local law enforcement agencies,” Schiff said.
He added that the absence of an appropriate U.S.-Armenian agreement can not be an obstacle to the man’s extradition because “our two countries have worked together in the past to effectively bring to justice individuals who would seek to avoid prosecution in the courts of the country where the crime has been committed by simply fleeing the country.”