In February 2006, Anush Zakharyants, who was serving time at the Abovyan criminal detention center after being convicted of trafficking, “escaped” with collective help from the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General's office. Border guards helped Zakharyants leave Armenia. It does not matter how much money she paid at the border in order to buy her escape. What matters is that it is possible to buy your way across our borders, even when your passport is expired.
Zakharyants' escape was accomplished in three steps:
The first step consisted of freeing her from the detention center. This was done by the Ministry of Justice. The second step involved obtaining her passport from the Prosecutor's Office. This was done jointly by the Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Justice.
The third step was crossing the Armenian border. This was done by the National Security Service. At each step, these official organs did all that was in their power to help Anush escape from Armenia.
It is difficult to say whether these different organs collaborated with each other, but there is no official body left in Armenia that is authorized to investigate this issue. How can the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor General's office or the National Security Service – under whom the border guards operate - file a case against themselves?
Anush Zakharyants, a citizen of Uzbekistan, was first convicted of human trafficking (article 132 of the Armenian Criminal Code) in Armenia and sentenced to a four-and-a-half year prison term on May 28, 2004. She had brought nine women from Uzbekistan to Armenia and had subjected them to sexual exploitation. Anush had confiscated their passports and forced them to make money for her through prostitution. All this was proven in court, Anush was convicted, and the victims were repatriated to Uzbekistan.
The convict was released from the detention center
Anush was serving her term at the Abovyan prison, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. In February of this year, Anush left the center and did not return. Ashot Martirosyan, the Head of the Criminal Supervision Department answered to question we had directed at Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan as follows.
“…In accordance with Article 80 of the Armenian Criminal Code, the head of the Abovyan criminal detention center had allowed convict A. Zakharyants a short leave of absence from 01.02.06 to 05.02.06 with the aim of social rehabilitation. However, the convict did not return within the given period to continue serving her sentence. The Abovyan criminal detention center informed the Prosecutor's office of the situation, where a criminal case was then filed against A. Zakharyants.”
As part of the first step, papers were prepared at the prison to allow Zakharyants a short leave of absence. Our source at the Criminal Supervision Department informed us that the order for her absence had been issued by former Head of Department Samvel Hovhannisyan (he was removed from his post four months ago, but the reason for his dismissal reportedly had nothing to do with organizing Anush Zakharyants' escape).
“On January 31, 2006, convict A. Zakharyants went to the head of the medical service at the detention center, Dr. H. Muradyan, regarding some health problems. The latter recommended a specialized diagnostic examination and this recommendation was attached to the convict's personal file.” - This was the reply we managed to elicit, with the help of Anahit Voskanyan, Press Secretary for the Ministry of Justice, from Arsen Afrikyan, head of the Abovyan Criminal Detention Center.
After that, Zakharyants received a five-day leave of absence from the prison. Zakharyants' passport was not among her personal belongings at the Abovyan Criminal Detention Center. By law, it should have been sent to the Justice Ministry facility after she was sentenced, but it was not among her personal belongings.
“The Court of First Instance for the Kentron and Nork-Marash municipalities of Yerevan informed us, replying to our written query, that the convict's passport was missing from her criminal file as well. Therefore, the convict did not have a passport at the time the leave of absence was granted,”stated Arsen Afrikyan .
Afrikyan also said that their search operations had yielded no results, and that they had gone to the Kotayk Marz Prosecutor on February 28, requesting an investigation into the case of A. Zakharyants. Zakharyants was supposed to return to the detention center on February 6. The administration at the Abovyan facility waited 22 days before informing the Kotayk Marz Prosecutor of Zakharyants' disappearance. In all likelihood, this was Samvel Hovhannisyan's initiative as well. He may have been waiting for Anush to reach Uzbekistan and inform him of her safe arrival.
Samvel Hovhannisyan gave the convict her passport
Anush Zakharyants left the Abovyan Criminal Detention Center without her passport. In January 2004, her passport was in her criminal file at the Prosecutor's Office. The file was sent to court without the passport, which is against the law. The passport had been removed from the file and kept at the Prosecutor's Office. We tried to find out from the Prosecutor General if the passport was still at the office today, or whether it had been returned to Anush Zakharyants.
Sona Truzyan, Press Secretary for the Prosecutor General's office stated, “ On the basis of an official statement by the former head of the Ministry of Justice Criminal Supervision Department, an inspector returned Anush Zakharyants her passport and received a statement of receipt on January 12, 2006.”
The official statement, as clarified by the press secretary, had been a verbal command by which the former Head of the Criminal Supervision Department Samvel Hovhannisyan obtained the passport from inspector Aristakes Yeremyan. But the passport never entered the criminal detention center. It remained “in Hovhannisyan's pocket” and was handed to Zakharyants in early February, when she was outside the center during her leave of absence. It is not clear what remuneration Hovhannisyan received against the passport.
As soon as she received her passport, Anush Zakharyants left Armenia.
Armenian border guards got Zakharyants across to Georgia, even though her passport had expired
Hetq wrote two letters to Gorik Hakobyan, head of the National Security Service, to try and find out whether Zakharyants had crossed the Armenia border and how, with which passport, she had done so. We received no reply.
Anush Zakharyants held a Republic of Uzbekistan passport which expired in 2005, which meant that she was not allowed to cross the Armenian border. But that did not keep her from bribing the Armenian border guards and getting across.
But the Georgian guards on the other side of the border noticed that her passport had expired and detained Zakharyants. She pleaded for political asylum with Border Department officials at the Georgian Internal Affairs Ministry. Her application was processed by the Ministry for Refugee Issues in Georgia. The border guards handed Anush over to officials at the Department for Constitutional Security within the Ministry for Internal Affairs.
Our source within the Georgian law enforcement agencies informed us that Anush Zakharyants made a deal with the Georgians and gave them information about Georgians dealing in human trafficking. In return, she was allowed to go to the Embassy of Uzbekistan and receive a certificate of repatriation. For some reason, officials from the Ministry for National Security arranged for Anush's stay in Tbilisi with an organization that provides help to women victims of domestic violence. Anush left for Uzbekistan a week later.
We find ourselves forced to ask the following questions of the agencies that helped Anush Zakharyants to escape once again, in public this time. We would like to ask Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan the same question we asked a year ago - How is it that everyone convicted under the trafficking article have all managed to leave prison early? Why are the structures under his jurisdiction so solicitous of convicts of this type? Why were they so considerate this time around in organizing Anush Zakharyants' escape?
We would like to ask Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan – Why was Anush Zakharyants' passport kept for two years at the Office of the Prosecutor General? Why and how was it returned to Samvel Hovhannisyan? Does the Prosecutor General's office keep the passports of other convicts as well?
We would like to receive a reply to this question from Gorik Hakobyan, Head of the National Security Service – How did the convict cross the Armenian border holding an expired passport?