By Karine Kalantarian
A Russian man who was arrested in Armenia late last year for allegedly spying for Azerbaijan protested his innocence and claimed to have been “brutally” mistreated in custody as he went on trial on Tuesday.
Rustem Valiakhmetov, 48, is accused of systematically collecting Armenian “state secrets” and passing them on to Azerbaijani intelligence. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) and state prosecutors have so far declined to detail the charges leveled against him, promising to substantiate them during the trial.
News of the mysterious espionage case was first announced by the NSS about two weeks ago, at least eight months after Valiakhmetov’s arrest, which the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB says was made on December 28.
However, Valiakhmetov claimed during the opening court hearing that he was detained on November 21. It also emerged that the retired Russian army officer had served in the Armenian army during the 1992-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He is understood to have regularly traveled to Armenia from Moscow, his place of permanent residence, in recent years.
“Armenia is my second motherland,” Valiakhmetov told a court of first instance in Gavar, the administrative center of the northeastern Gegharkunik region. “I spilled blood for it and fought well.”
“What [the law-enforcement authorities] now say really hurts me,” he said, adding that he hopes to prove that the accusations are unfounded during further court proceedings.
The defendant spoke after the presiding judge, Aghvan Petrosian, agreed to adjourn the trial until September 18 in order to enable him to hire a defense lawyer. The two trial prosecutors are expected to read out their indictment during that session. They on Tuesday refused to disclose details of the case until then, telling RFE/RL only that Valiakhmetov confessed to the charges shortly after his arrested but subsequently retracted the testimony.
Valiakhmetov claimed that the confession was extracted under duress, saying that his body still bears traces of torture. “I was tortured horribly and brutally,” he said. “I will definitely describe during the trial how they extracted testimony from me.”
An ethnic Tatar, Valiakhmetov is not the first person accused of spying for Azerbaijan and standing trial in Armenia. In June last year, a Russian-born Armenian citizen, Andrey Maziev, was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Maziev pleaded guilty to the charges, unlike four other ethnic Russians who were given lengthy jail sentences on similar charges in January 2004.