An interview with Nelly Harutyunyan, Head of International Legal Relations at the Office of the Prosecutor General
- What kind of international legal collaboration is the Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia involved in?
- The international legal collaboration that the Prosecutor General is part of has its own legal basis – international agreements, bilateral contracts and goodwill. The Prosecutor General's Office does this on a bilateral and multilateral scale with the CIS and the Council of Europe. We collaborate with Council of Europe member countries within the framework of international agreements which have supreme legal power compared to bilateral contracts and memoranda. But the latter encourage direct ties between state prosecutors in two countries. Contracts are signed between the leaders or governments of two countries, while memoranda regarding legal aid or extradition of criminals are signed by the prosecutors general. We have signed contracts with Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Russia. We have also signed memoranda aimed at strengthening collaboration with the prosecutors general of China, Slovakia, Belarus, Russia, Georgia and Hungary.
- How is the extradition of criminals from abroad carried out?
- The extradition of criminals is conducted in two cases – either to try them or to have them carry out a sentence which has already been passed and entered into legal force.
In practice, one sees quite often that criminals are sentenced and then extradited to their home country in order to serve the remaining term there.
The Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia is actively involved in the extradition process.
One should note that when a decision is taken to extradite someone, then the receiving country presents guarantees that the criminal will not undergo punishment which would be considered greater than that allowed by the law of the extraditing country. So extradition can be refused if there is the probability that the criminal will be given the death sentence in the receiving country. If the criminal is to be tried in another country, then the offense committed must be comparable by the laws of both countries. If, for example, during the investigation after extradition it is discovered that another crime was committed by the same individual, then the receiving country must get in touch with the legal authorities of the extraditing country and seek permission to try the person for his second crime as well.
If an appeal by Armenia for extradition is rejected – suppose, for example, because the alleged criminal has been granted citizenship in another country – then the investigation is extended and the case against the person is translated and sent to the other country where the trial will occur for the crime committed in Armenia, and the results of the trial are definitely communicated to Armenia.
The practice of not extraditing one's own citizens is now common practice in international law.
- Is there an extradition agreement between Armenia and the USA? There have been reports in the press about the extradition of criminals from Armenia to the US and vice versa. If no such agreement exists, on what basis were these extraditions conducted?
- They were done based on mutual goodwill, which is often practiced in cases of extradition. We don't have a legal basis for collaboration with theUS. In cases of goodwill, the countries concerned do not have an agreement, but collaborate whenever necessary.
Five people have been extradited to Armenia from the US. There are ten or fifteen people in the US who are wanted in Armenia for serious crimes, but who have managed to gain permanent resident status or citizenship there. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is considering legally depriving them of that status and extraditing them toArmenia.
- What specific cases of collaboration can you mention between Armenia and the US?
- For example, America was trying to force us to hand over Artur Khanzadyan, accused of murder, whom we recognized as an Armenian citizen by birth. They were saying that Khanzadyan's father had been given political asylum in their country. But I cited the convention on territorial asylum, which clearly states the following – if a person leaves a country where he has been given political asylum for the country against which he or she had made political statements in order to gain political asylum, then he or she automatically loses the right to political asylum.
Harutyun Bekaryan, who had permanent resident status in the US but was wanted there, was sighted in Armenia. However, we did not hand him over and instead expressed a willingness to conduct an investigation and try him here. But Bekaryan, who pleaded innocent, insisted that we extradite him to the US legal authorities. However, he was found guilty in a trial held there in February this year.
Ashot Chilingaryan, who was wanted inArmenia, has been extradited from the US and is now here, his case is still under investigation.
- What is the level of collaboration with Russia and other CIS countries?
- There are some differences in the legal codes of Armenia and the Russian Federation, which cause problems sometimes. According to the convention on legal aid and legal relations for civil, family and criminal cases, “a request for legal aid may be partially or completely rejected, if this aid could damage the sovereignty or security of the country which has received the request or is against its law.” But the Russian legal bodies respect our legal code. For example, if a case of embezzlement is found, which we classify as large but which the Russians classify otherwise, they would allow the extradition. That is, they consider the points of the article which we mention in our request.
According to a study by the Prosecutor General's Office, 262 individuals accused of crimes in other CIS countries were found in Armenia in 2005-2006, 82 in 2005 and 180 in 2006. In the same period, 105 Armenian citizens were arrested in CIS countries and extradited to Armenia, 50 in 2005 and 55 in 2006. 93 of them were found in the Russian Federation, 6 inUkraine, 4 in Kazakhstan and 1 person each in Georgia and Belarus.
- You mentioned that the Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia also collaborates with state prosecutors in other Council of Europe member countries.
- Yes. However, I should note that only two or three accused criminals were extradited to Armenia from Council of Europe member countries in the period from 2005 to 2007. We collaborate more actively with these countries in the transfer of sentenced criminals. This is possible in cases where the convict is a citizen of the receiving country and expresses a willingness to serve his sentence in his home country. Besides this, both the extraditing and receiving countries must come to an agreement regarding arrangements for the transfer. For example, Lyovik Beyjanyan, convicted in Germany, expressed a desire to come to Armenia. But the German authorities reviewed the verdict and released Beyjanyan, who then came to Armeniaa free man. Our citizens usually want to come here if they are serving sentences in CIS countries. The Department of Prison Sites in the Ministry to Justice of Armenia usually deals with these cases.