Married Couple Charged In Killing of Norwegian

A married couple has been charged with the murder of a Norwegian man and his Russian wife in the southern city of Astrakhan, a top regional investigator said Friday.

The suspects, a 27-year-old man and his 23-year-old wife, were friends of Norwegian engineer Staale Helseth and his wife, Svetlana, and stand accused of shooting the couple dead last week after partying with them at a local nightclub, said Alexei Bessonov, chief investigator at the Astrakhan regional branch of the Investigative Committee.

The suspects have been charged with premeditated murder and intent to rob, Bessonov said in a telephone interview. If convicted, they face up to life in prison.

The couple was placed under arrest Thursday for three months, and the father of the female suspect has been detained as a possible accomplice, Bessonov said.

Helseth, 40, and his wife Svetlana, 23, were discovered dead with gunshot wounds in their Astrakhan apartment Tuesday, though they were murdered a day earlier, investigators said.

The two couples had been partying at a local nightclub on the evening of June 29 when the female suspect, a university classmate of Svetlana's, asked if she could stay the night at the victims' apartment, Bessonov said.

After the victims fell asleep, the suspect let her husband into the apartment, where he shot Helseth and Svetlana dead with a gas pistol converted to fire low-caliber ammunition, he said.

Helseth was shot three times in the head and chest, while Svetlana was shot once in the head.

The suspects proceeded to steal cell phones and credit cards from the apartment before fleeing the scene in a getaway car driven by the female suspect's father, Bessonov said.

He declined further comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

A Norwegian Embassy official on Friday called the crime "very sad and regrettable."

"We are helping all those associated with the family," he said, adding that two embassy officials had been sent to Astrakhan to assist authorities with the investigation.

Helseth, who worked for the Norwegian company Aker Solutions, was the lead engineer on a firefighting module being built in Astrakhan and intended for the giant Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan.

He moved to Kazakhstan from Astrakhan in March to work on the unit. It was unclear exactly why he was visiting Astrakhan when he and his wife died.