YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Law-enforcement authorities in Armenia said on Tuesday that they have finished a criminal investigation into two men who were arrested recently on charges of spying for Azerbaijan.
The National Security Service (NSS) reported the arrests on October 21, identifying one of the accused men as retired Lieutenant-Colonel Gevorg Hayrapetian who it said had been ousted from the Armenian military for a “blatant violation of military and disciplinary rules.” It described the other suspect as a “foreign national” who liaised between Hayrapetian and Azerbaijani intelligence.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General disclosed the foreigner’s identity on Tuesday. In a written statement, it said B. Bagheri is an Iranian citizen of Azeri descent who arrived in Armenia in September to pass “yet another assignment” from Azerbaijani intelligence on to Hayrapetian.
The Armenian, for his part, handed Bagheri “materials that could be used for anti-Armenian propaganda,” the law-enforcement agency said, adding that NSS officers found and confiscated them when the Iranian was about to cross the Armenian-Iranian border. Bagheri was arrested on the spot, it added.
The two suspects were charged under different articles of the Armenian Criminal Code that deal with espionage. Hayrapetian will face between 10 and 15 years in prison if he is convicted of high treason. He is also accused of illegally possessing weapons and ammunition that were allegedly found in his apartment.
With the criminal case shrouded in secrecy, it is not yet clear whether the arrested men have pleaded guilty to the accusations. The Azerbaijani authorities dismissed their arrests as a “cheap Armenian provocation.” “We don’t know that person,” a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security, said in October, referring to Hayrapetian.
According to the Armenian prosecutors’ statement, Hayrapetian was recruited by Azerbaijani special services in April. It claimed that he provided them with “secret information about the combat-readiness and strength of the Armenian armed forces” as well as “anti-Armenian propaganda” material. The NSS has sent the case to a district court in Yerevan, concluded the statement.
Both Azerbaijan and Armenia have occasionally arrested and prosecuted individuals for allegedly spying for each other since the early 1990s. In one such case, a retired Russian army officer who had fought on the Armenian side during the 1992-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh was arrested in late 2006 and subsequently convicted of passing Armenian “state secrets” on to Azerbaijan. The ethnic Tatar man, Rustem Valiakhmetov, initially confessed to the charges but retracted his pre-trial testimony in court, saying that it had been given under duress.
And in June 2005, a Russian-born Armenian citizen, Andrey Maziev, was likewise convicted of high treason and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Maziev pleaded guilty to the charges, unlike four other ethnic Russians who received lengthy jail sentences on similar charges in January 2004.