Yuriy Mel, a Russian citizen recently detained as a suspect in the January 13, 1991 case in Lithuania, has been coming to Lithuania almost every month, his state-paid lawyer Anatolij Svila says.
“From his words I know that he’s come here every month for tourism purposes,” the lawyer told journalists at a Vilnius court. The lawyer said he had no information whether Mel’s recent visit to Lithuania when he was detained was the first after he was named suspect in the case. “He was not suspected previously. The suspicion was updated last June, I believe, and at that time he was put on the suspect list,” the lawyer said.
The prosecutors had asked the court to sanction Mel’s arrest for three months but the court sanctioned his arrest for two months. “Since he is diabetic, I asked the court to reduce the time of arrest a bit,” Svila said. According to the lawyer, the suspect has not testified yet but said he would after getting acquainted with the suspicions against him.
Lithuania ‘s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told BNS “the suspect in the January 13 case was issued a short-term Schengen visa.” Prosecutor Gintautas Paškevičius said Mel was in one of the tanks when the Soviet army stormed the TV Tower in Vilnius on January 13, 1991.
“He was not questioned in court over the suspicions, but just provided his explanations for the detention. He in essence agreed with the detention. (…) I had the opportunity to talk to him a bit and he said he served here during the January 1991 events, he took part in those events, possibly near the TV Tower,” Svila said.
The Russian man was detained at the Panemunė border checkpoint on the Lithuanian-Russian border on Wednesday night.
Mel faces life imprisonment on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
All in all, 79 citizens of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are named suspects in the January 13 case, with European arrest warrant issued for their arrest.
Some 14 people were killed during an attempt by the Soviet army and Special Forces to take over the Vilnius TV Tower on January 13, 1991, and more than 1,000 unarmed civilians were injured.
In July, 2011, former KGB officer, Russian citizen Mikhail Golovatov was detained at the airport of the Austrian capital of Vienna under a European arrest warrant issued by Lithuania but was released in less than a day. Lithuanian and European Commission officials then criticized Austria which cited a lack of evidence for Golovatov to be handed over to Lithuania.