Russian border guards were obliged to hand over a Russian soldier suspected of slaughtering a family in Gyumri when they captured him on Armenia’s frontier with Turkey last week, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian said on Thursday.
Kostanian again defended Armenian law-enforcement authorities’ response to the shock killings as he was grilled by angry lawmakers during parliamentary hearings in Yerevan.
Opposition deputies present at the hearing faulted the authorities for the fact that the fugitive soldier, Valery Permyakov, ended up in Russian military custody after allegedly killing the seven members of the Avetisian family on January 12. Russia’s refusal to hand him over to Armenian investigators sparked angry street protests in Gyumri last week.
According to the official theory, Permyakov was detained by the Russian border guards and sent back to the Russian military base in Gyumri after attempting to cross into Turkey. The Armenian police and other security bodies are facing growing domestic criticism for their failure to capture the suspect.
Kostanian accepted opposition lawmakers’ arguments that the border guards subordinate to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) were legally obliged to hand over Permyakov to relevant Armenian authorities. “Under our laws on the state border and border guard service, they must hand over individuals attempting to illegally cross the borders of the Republic of Armenia,” he said.
The chief Armenian prosecutor was at the same time careful not to openly accuse the FSB servicemen of breaking those laws or Russian-Armenian treaties regulating their presence in the country. He said an ongoing inquiry conducted by the Armenian side will judge the legality of their actions.
Opposition deputies countered that neither the Armenian investigators nor their Russian colleagues have so far charged Permyakov with illegal border crossing in their separate inquiries into the family massacre. Kostanian assured them that the Armenian side is now “verifying facts” and may well add such an accusation to the criminal case.
Kostanian further acknowledged that he has yet to make good on his pledge to formally ask Russian prosecutors to transfer Permyakov to Armenian jurisdiction. “I will certainly fulfill my promise,” he said. He did not specify, however, when he will send a corresponding letter to Moscow.
Kostanian promised to write to Russia’s Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika on January 15 as he was confronted by about 2,000 angry demonstrators in Gyumri protesting against Russian custody of the suspect. His assurances did not stop some of the protesters from marching to the Russian consulate in Gyumri and clashing with riot police deployed nearby.
In a bid to calm the Armenian public, the Armenian and Russian investigators said earlier this week that they will “coordinate” their efforts to solve the unprecedented crime. It is expected that Permyakov will be tried in Armenia but by a Russian military court.