VILNIUS - A suspect in the notorious Medininkai border massacre, who has been on the run for the last 16 years, has been detained by Latvian police. Prosecutors are currently in the process of extraditing him to Lithuania.
Latvian authorities an-nounced Jan. 10 that they had finally detained a man who they claim is Konstantin Nikulin, 40, formerly a member of the Special Purpose Police Squad group, Delta-1 (OMON), in November 2007.
The Lithuanian Prosecutor's Office said the suspect was living in Latvia under a false name but had not previously come to light despite having a criminal record in Latvia. They believe the man is in fact Nikulin and want him extradited to Lithuania as soon as possible.
"We suspect that members of this group [Delta 1] are responsible for the murder of seven officers and attempted murder of Tomas Sernas," chief prosecutor Algimantas Kliunka said.
Nikulin has appealed against the extradition, and that appeal 's to Latvia's Supreme Court 's is the last obstacle to moving him to Lithuania. There is no statute of limitations in this case because Nikulin evaded capture. If convicted he faces life imprisonment.
Nikulin is one of the most wanted people in Lithuania. Three other suspects who took part in the massacre have avoided capture. According to sources, Aleksandr Ryzhov, Andrej Laktionov and Ceslav Mlynik now live in Russia, which refuses to extradite its citizens for crimes committed abroad.
The massacre took place during the turmoil that followed the declaration of Lithuanian Independence in 1990. The newly formed Lithuanian government set up checkpoints along the Lithuania-Belarus border, which the Soviets considered to be illegal. The allegation is that they sent in police special forces to eliminate the Medininkai checkpoint.
A pre-trial investigation of the Medininkai case in Lithuania found the customs officers, who were unarmed, were shot in the head execution style on July 31, 1991 while performing their duties. There was only one survivor, Tomas Sernas, who was seriously wounded and is now disabled.
Border raids by OMON occurred quite frequently in 1990 and 1991 as the Soviets attempted to reassert control over Lithuania. The massacre was one of the two most serious skirmishes. The other took place at Krakunai. In that incident, one border guard, Gintaras Zagunis, was killed and 30 others were injured, some seriously.
The massacre continues to be a cause of tension between the Lithuanian and Russian governments, particularly since Russia refuses to extradite those implicated in the crime.