By Armen Zakarian
The two-month trial on criminal charges of Mushegh Saghatelian drew to a close on Tuesday with a strong chance for a guilty verdict against Armenia’s former prison chief who has openly accused President Robert Kocharian of masterminding the 1999 parliament massacre.
The presiding judge, Vazgen Lalayan, wrapped up the politically charged proceedings to consider state prosecutors’ demand for an 8-year jail term for Saghatelian. The ruling is expected to be announced within a week.
The prosecutors allege that Saghatelian sought false testimony to implicate Kocharian in the assassination of former prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian and seven other officials during the October 1999 terrorist attack on the parliament. They also accuse him of mistreating prisoners and providing a bogus university diploma that allowed him to join the interior ministry in the early 1990s.
Saghatelian, who was arrested late last year, has firmly denied all the charges, saying that he is paying the price for publicly blaming the parliament shootings on Kocharian. “I have not done what I am accused of,” he repeated on Tuesday. “My prosecution is the result of an order [issued by the authorities]. I don’t consider myself guilty.”
Saghatelian, who had faced numerous torture allegations even before his prosecution, has close ties with the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party led by Aram Sarkisian, the murdered prime minister’s brother. Sarkisian was present at the concluding court session. He and his party believe that the case is politically motivated.
If Saghatelian is sentenced to up to five years in prison he, as a veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, will be immediately set free under a general amnesty declared by the parliament last year. If the sentence is lengthier he will serve only half of the jail term.
Saghatelian’s participation in the Karabakh war has been officially certified by the Armenian defense ministry. The once powerful prison chief received another moral boost earlier this month when he was reelected to the governing board of the influential Yerkrapah Union of war veterans.