For the last 16 months, Dmitri Berman has been holed up inside the Canadian Embassy in Moscow, in semi-asylum from a murder rap that was first leveled by Soviet and then independent Ukrainian sources.
On April 30, he left the strip of Canadian territory on Starokonyushenny Lane to face a possible retrial for murder.
Michael Bell, Canada’s ambassador to Russia, said the day after that he did not know where the Ukrainian Jewish refugee had gone.
Canada will continue to monitor the case, he said, which began with the Aug. 1, 1988 knifing of a Moldavian Soviet navy ensign in the Bug River port of Nikolayev, Berman’s hometown.
Berman, a slim 28-year-old factory worker, was arrested for the sailor’s murder. Despite scanty evidence, he was tried and convicted in March 1989, after eight months in detention.
The ambassador said Berman decided to leave the embassy after complaining about poor living conditions in the embassy compound.
“He used some rather intemperate language. He threatened to punch one of my guards. He was jumpy and clearly under stress,” Bell told Canadian reporters.
The Ukrainian procurator general, whose office had a year prior effectively dropped its case against the young Jew, has called for the case to be reopened, even after Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk told an American Jewish audience the Berman case was “a Soviet matter.”
Since then, the Ukrainian procurator has refused to see the Canadian lawyer whom Berman retained as counsel.
Berman testified, in several proceedings, that he had been beaten and force-fed drugs in prison. He had been in quasi-asylum in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow since December 1990.
In January 1991, Berman learned that he would not be permitted to leave because the investigation was being reopened on the basis of “new evidence.”
His brother went on to Israel; his father remained behind for the duration of the ordeal. Berman had been at the point of leaving for Israel when new charges were raised against him by unidentified Soviet authorities. Since the case began, the countries and players have changed.
Berman claims the charges against him stem from religious persecution.
With the breakup of the former Soviet Union, Berman has become a symbol for Ukrainian authorities. The prosecutor’s office insists that Berman must return for a court appearance to satisfy due process requirements.
The question now is whether Berman will remain on the lam or seek to close the book on his legal nightmare.
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.