Armenia Extradites Suspect in US Arms Smuggling Probe

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian law-enforcement authorities have extradited a man’suspected of involvement in an alleged attempt to smuggle heavy weapons into the United States–the US embassy in Yerevan announced on Monday.

An embassy statement said Armen Barseghian was flown to the US on Friday and will appear before a New York court this week along with 20 other defendants that have been indicted in connection with the case.

The latter were arrested in New York–Los Angeles–and Florida last month following an undercover operation conducted by the FBI. Their alleged ringleader is Artur Solomonian–a 26-year-old Armenian citizen wanted in Armenia for draft evasion. He is accused of looking for buyers of Russian-made shoulder-fired missiles–grenade-launchers and other weapons used by the Armenian military.

US prosecutors showed photographs of those weapons which Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) say were taken by a Yerevan-based friend of Solomonian–identified as Spartak Yeribekian.

The arrests of Yeribekian and two other residents of Armenia were announced on March 21. It was not clear if the extradited man was one of them.

Law-enforcement sources said that Barseghian is an Armenian-born American citizen who illegally returned to Armenia in the mid-1990s to escape prosecution in the US. A New York newspaper reported that US prosecutors believe Barseghian is the man who allegedly photographed the weapons at a military base in Armenia.

"This case highlights the cooperation on law enforcement issues which is developing between the US and the Republic of Armenia," the US embassy said. "We commend the continued professionalism of the Armenian authorities who have been instrumental in supporting this ongoing investigation."

A senior FBI investigator who visited Yerevan last month likewise praised Armenian security agencies for their "active cooperation" in the probe.

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