Montenegro arrests US fugitives convicted of $18m fraud

Montenegrin police officer on patrol in the capital Podgorica. Photo. BIRN/Samir Kajosevic

Montenegrin police on Wednesday arrested three fraudsters who fled after being convicted in the United States of stealing more than $18 million in COVID-19 relief loans to buy luxury goods and real estate.

The US Justice Department said Richard Ayvazyan, his wife, Marietta Terabelian, and his sister-in-law, Tamara Dadyan, are in custody in Montenegro. The Montenegrin Interior Ministry did not respond to BIRN’s request for details of the arrest at the time of publication.

“They were arrested in Montenegro and we are asking for their extradition,” Nicole Navas Oxman, from the US Department of Justice, told the media.

The three fugitives were among eight members of a California criminal network convicted of stealing more than $18 million in COVID-19 relief loans.

According to US prosecutors, they used false or stolen identities to submit fraudulent applications to receive approximately 150 paycheck protection program and economic disaster loan program relief loans. They used the stolen money to buy luxury homes, gold, diamonds and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Ayvazyan and his wife fled US justice last August as they awaited sentencing, leaving behind their three children. Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia in November 2021 to 17 years in prison, while his wife was sentenced to six years.

All three fugitives were on the FBI’s most wanted list, and the Bureau was offering up to $20,000 for information leading to their arrest.

Unlike its neighbors Serbia and Croatia, Montenegro does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. Bbilateral negotiations on an agreement were initiated by Montenegro in 2019.

However, there have been a few cases of extradition. In June 2020, Montenegro extradited a US citizen accused of child pornography.

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