By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
Tatul Manaserian, an Armenian parliamentarian arrested in the United States last month, is facing several years in prison on three counts of “child-stealing” and a related armed assault, Californian police told to RFE/RL on Monday.
It was the first official confirmation that a 1997 child custody dispute with his U.S.-based former wife was the main reason for Manaserian’s surprise detention at the Dulles airport in Washington on January 15. He spent about two weeks in an immigration jail in the state of Virginia before being flown to the San Bernardino County, California.
“He is in our biggest jail here,” a spokesman for the San Bernardino police department said, listing four articles of the California Penal Code on which Manaserian has been indicted.
“I guess that’s child-stealing, violation of the custody order. There is also an assault with a deadly weapon charge out of [Los Angeles],” he said.
Two of the criminal code articles envisage up to four years’ imprisonment for those who “maliciously take, entice away, keep, withhold, or conceal” a child from their legal custodian or deprive the latter of the right to custody. Manaserian is also charged with an assault “likely to produce great bodily injury.” This accusation also carries up to four years in prison.
The police spokesman could not specify when the alleged assault took place and who was its victim. “I don’t have the date for it,” he said.
He also said that Manaserian will remain in custody until the end of his trial which has yet to get underway. “He wouldn’t be able to post any bail. No bail will be offered,” he said without elaborating.
A senior member of Armenia’s largest opposition alliance, Manaserian lived and worked in the U.S. from 1992 through 1997, reportedly teaching economics at a college in California. 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 former wife, Nune Simonian.
Manaserian’s relatives say an Armenian court awarded custody of the boy to his father before Simonian took him back to Los Angeles later in 1997. The case against the Armenian lawmaker suggests that she was considered her son’s custodian by U.S. authorities before the ruling.
“A custody order obtained after the taking, enticing away, keeping, withholding, or concealing of a child does not constitute a defense to a crime charged under this section,” reads a clause in the California Penal Code.
Manaserian carried an Armenian diplomatic passport when he was detained by officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. and Armenian government officials say the passport did not give him immunity from arrest as he is not a diplomat accredited with the U.S. State Department and arrived in the country on a private trip.