Russia has refused to extradite to Armenia a former senior Armenian official who is facing corruption charges denied by him.
Mihran Poghosian was detained in the northern Russian region of Karelia in April on an arrest warrant issued by Armenian law-enforcement authorities. Poghosian, who was an influential figure in Armenia’s former leadership, asked Russian authorities to grant him asylum, saying that the charges brought against him are politically motivated.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said over the weekend that Russian prosecutors have rejected its request to extradite Poghosian. A spokeswoman for the office, Arevik Khachatrian, said they cited an article of a convention signed by Russia, Armenia and a dozen other former Soviet republics in 1993.
The article says that a signatory to the convention can reject extradition demands that could damage it sovereignty and national security or contradict its national legislation.
According to Khachatrian, Armenian prosecutors have asked their Russian colleagues to give a more “clear” explanation for their refusal to hand over Poghosian.
Poghosian allegedly embezzled at least 64.2 million drams ($132,000) in public funds when he ran a state agency enforcing court rulings from 2008-2016. Investigators also accuse him of giving privileged treatment to a real estate valuation firm that was contracted by the Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) in 2014.
The firm was allegedly a subsidiary of shadowy companies set up by Poghosian in Panama in 2011. Citing leaked documents widely known as the Panama Papers, an Armenian investigative website reported in April 2016 that Poghosian controls three such companies registered in the Central American state.
Poghosian dismissed the report. Nevertheless, he resigned as SMEJA chief shortly afterwards. A year later, he was elected to the former Armenian parliament on the ticket of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party.
Hovannes Igitian, a senior pro-government member of Armenia’s parliament, expressed hope that the Russian authorities’ decision not to extradite Poghosian was only “technical” and can be reconsidered.
“I don’t think that Russia is prepared to turn its territory into a safe haven for individuals convicted or suspected of crimes committed in Armenia,” said Igitian.
“Russia also realizes that this case must not become a precedent in our relations,” he added.
Russia already refused late last year to extradite Mikael Harutiunian, a former Armenian defense minister wanted by the authorities on coup charges.
Harutiunian as well as another retired Armenian general, Yuri Khachaturov, and former President Robert Kocharian were charged in July 2018 with illegally using Armenian army units against opposition protesters in March 2008. The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the accusations as politically motivated. Khachaturov was the secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization at the time.
It emerged afterwards that Harutiunian is a Russian citizen and now lives in Russia. Moscow argued that Russia’s constitution forbids the extradition of Russian nationals to foreign states.
The Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Sergey Kopyrkin, made a point of meeting with Kocharian after he was again released from custody in May. Kopyrkin was summoned to the Armenian Foreign Ministry in connection with that meeting.