The seats of courtroom 101 were full as Justice A.M. Mahar sentenced Samson Mkhitaryan to 18 months in prison for stealing close to $400,000 worth of diamonds from a Yellowknife sorting facility.
Mahar says while the theft is historic – the largest theft in the history of the Northwest Territories – there were also ‘highly unusual’ circumstances of Mkhitaryan’s early confession, his character and the financial stress he was under to consider. The Crown asked for a sentence of 2.5 years, while the defense argued for 1.5 years.
“I’m being as lenient as I can be with Mr. Mkhitaryan,” Mahar said when handing down the 1.5-year sentence. He recommended Mkhitaryan be considered for early release and did not impose probation.
In his sentencing, Mahar described how the then 39-year-old man hid diamonds ‘on his person’, took them home and stored them in a pipe in his plumbing system. Over the course of two and a half months between December 2017 and February 2018, Mkhitaryan managed to smuggle out $393,000 worth of rough cut diamonds from the Diavik product splitting facility.
Mkhitaryan does not have a criminal record. He confessed to the theft before police laid charges and also drew a map to help police locate the 29 stones when the first search of his home failed to locate them.
Despite a gross family income of $170,000 per year, Mahar said Mkhitaryan was clearly under a lot of financial pressure. The family was sending money to his home country of Armenia to cover medical bills for his mother who had cancer.
“He was under great financial pressure, and as a result of that pressure he caved to temptation.”
Mahar referred to a large body of support letters in his sentencing, adding the theft was ‘clearly out of character’ for Mkhitaryan.
At one point in the sentencing, Mahar mused on the arbitrary value our society places on diamonds, referring to them as ‘shiny stones.’ Yet he added there is a need to impose penalties to protect a very important industry in the NWT.