France refuses to extradite fugitive Armenian ex-governor

France refuses to extradite fugitive Armenian ex-governor

PanARMENIAN.Net - France has refused to extradite to Armenia the controversial former governor of Syunik, Surik Khachatrian, wanted by Yerevan on corruption-related charges, the Armenian service of RFE/RL reports.

It proceeds from the reply that RFE/RL’s Armenian Service got from the Armenian Prosecutor-General’s Office that Yerevan received a rejection from Paris regarding its bid for Khachatrian’s extradition about a month ago.

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs sent a reply through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, saying that five months ago judicial bodies in France expressed a negative opinion on Armenia’s bid for Khachatrian’s extradition and that the decision was based on the European Convention on Extradition, according to which “Khachatrian’s extradition may have extremely serious consequences for him.”

The Armenian Prosecutor-General’s Office did not elaborate as to what serious consequences the French judicial bodies referred to in their conclusion.

Hayk Martirosian, an expert on legal issues of Transparency International, believes that the rejection may also have a political context.

“They see risks. They are not sure that the process is purely legal and see a political context as well. This is also due to what maybe other states see as a lack of comprehensive, proportionate and equal policies by Armenia’s current authorities in relation to both former and current officials, with their entire attention focused on former officials. But it does not mean that former officials did not commit offenses,” Martirosian said.

The 1957 Convention cited by Paris, in particular, says that “extradition shall not be granted if the offense in respect of which it is requested is regarded by the requested Party as a political offense or as an offense connected with a political offense.” It adds that “the same rule shall apply if the requested Party has substantial grounds for believing that a request for extradition for an ordinary criminal offence has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or that that person’s position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons.”

Khachatrian served as Syunik’s governor from 2004 to 2016 with a one-year interval in 2013-2014 when he was forced to resign under public pressure after his son shot dead a person in front of their house in Goris.

The influential member of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia who was embroiled in multiple scandalous criminal stories has been wanted by Armenia’s authorities since 2019, a year after the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled the country’s former leader.

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