A refugee enraged over a botched business venture allegedly kidnapped a fellow Russian citizen last week in San José, setting off a four-hour hostage situation at the Russian Embassy that made international headlines.
Now, that man – Roman Bogdanyants, 20, a Russian citizen originally from Kryzygstan, a former Soviet state in Central Asia – is free to do as he pleases. According to Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese, who filed an appeal to put Bogdanyants in preventive prison, Costa Rica’s international image and the safety of its citizens are at stake.
“We must consider the kind of message we are sending. By letting this man free, we are telling the world that Costa Rica is an attractive place for terrorists and criminals,” he said.
The crisis began at approximately 12:30 p.m. on May 11, when Bogdanyants, armed with a weapon, allegedly led another man into the embassy. Six ambulances arrived on the scene with 60 riot police who cordoned off the surrounding area to businesses and press.
Hours of negotiations between Bogdanyants and authorities – during which eight embassy employees remained in the building, including Russian ambassador Valery Nikoluenko, who stayed to help oversee the situation – ended when Bogdayants turned in his weapon and marched out of the embassy at 4:47 p.m.
Police then escorted Bogdanyants to the Second Circuit Court in San José.He was released the next day after being charged with extortive kidnapping, which could mean up to 15 years in prison for Bogdanyants is convicted.
According to Dall’Anese, the presiding judge ruled that Bogdanyants did not have “the economic means to flee the country,” and therefore was not a flight risk. She also ruled that a preventive six-month prison sentence, often required for criminals accused of violent crimes, was unnecessarily severe considering the man’s actions.
Dall’Anese insists the countries’ borders are insecure and that Bogdanyants, who was allegedly seeking a visa to leave the country before the incident, presents a high risk of flight. Until the appeal is resolved, Bogdanyants is free, though he is forbidden to leave the country and must sign in with the Judicial Branch every 15 days.
Neither Bogdanyants nor his family speak Spanish or English, but his family’s translator, Elena Fainshmidt, said the family of four fled their home country on the heels of a popular uprising and government collapse to seek refugee status in Costa Rica in 2005.
The nation’s uprising, known as “the Tulip Revolution,” left in its wake anarchy and ethnic tensions that have caused many families like the Bogdanyants to flee.
As the Bogdanyants prepared to leave their native country, they sold their home and all of their assets and sent the $40,000 they earned to another family from Kryzygstan already living in Costa Rica, according to Fainshmidt.
Those family friends, the Yurenkovs, had moved to Costa Rica in 2002. The two families agreed that the Yurenkovs would invest the Bogdayants’ money in a pineapple business, Fainshmidt said.
However, when the Bogdanyants arrived here at the end of 2005, the Yurenkovs had nothing to show them for their investment. The Yurenkovs also promised to purchase a property for the Bogdanyants that the family never received, according to the translator.
The Tico Times was not able to speak with the Yurenkovs by press time.
Tensions between the two families came to a head last week when Roman Bogdanyants and both his parents arrived at the embassy and ran into Andrey Yurenkov.
According to Fainshmidt, Yurenkov reportedly made fun of Bogdanyant’s mother.
Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ) spokesman Francisco Ruiz said Bogdanyants led Yurenkov into the embassy and threatened him with a loaded weapon, though it is not clear where the gun came from. Ruiz said Bogdanyants was demanding things from authorities during the crisis, such as a cellular phone, water, a jacket and money.
“This family has a lot of material needs, which is why the crisis happened,” said Fainshmidt, a schoolteacher and family friend. When the Tico Times asked for an interview with Roman, Fainshmidt said he is giving interviews only for money. Members of his family held a press conference Tuesday at their San Antonio de Belen home to publicly ask for donations, the daily Al Día reported.
Fainshmidt explained that Roman claims the gun was not his and that he cannot comment further on where it came from because his lawyers have told him not to. She also said Bogdanyants is now at home and has no plans of leaving the country.
According to Dall’Anese, regardless of the circumstances, in a country of law like Costa Rica, “a citizen must never take the law into his own hands.”
Last Friday’s much-hyped crisis triggered the country’s painful memories of recent hostage situations.
In July 2004, a Costa Rican police officer stormed the Chilean Embassy in San José with an assault rifle, killing three officials while seven others hid for hours before he took his own life (TT, July 30, 2004).
A March 2005 robbery attempt at a Banco Nacional in the cloud-forested mountain town of Santa Elena de Monteverde resulted in an even bloodier 28-hour hostage crisis.
The nine fatalities from the tragedy included bank employees and clients, a police officer and two of the three gunmen who approached the bank opening fire with AK-47s and other weapons (TT,March 18, 2005).