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By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian and top law-enforcement officials insisted on Wednesday that there is ample evidence to prosecute the brother of opposition leader Aram Sarkisian for his alleged involvement in the recent murder of the head of Armenia’s state television.

Armen Sarkisian’s relatives and opposition leaders, meanwhile, continued to protest against his weekend arrest, describing the case as politically motivated.

Kocharian, however, strongly denied the claims. “Evidence was so compelling that the prosecutor-general’s office simply had no other choice,” he told reporters.

Hector Sardarian, a senior prosecutor running the criminal investigation into state TV chief Tigran Naghdalian’s killing, also strongly defended the arrest. “We had more than sufficient grounds to arrest Armen Sarkisian,” he told RFE/RL.

Sardarian claimed that the case against the businessman is not solely based on incriminating testimony given by other top suspects. One of them, a distant relative of Sarkisian, reportedly told the prosecutors that he was paid $50,000 by the latter to arrange Naghdalian’s shooting.

Sardarian refused to give any further details of the politically sensitive case, saying that the inquiry is continuing. “It is inadmissible to publish evidence in the case at this point,” he said.

Nevertheless, the prosecutors did provide some materials of the case to the state-run Armenian Public Television (APT) this week.

Kocharian said the law-enforcement authorities had first informed him of their suspicions two weeks ago, on the eve of the March 5 second round of the disputed presidential election. He said he asked them to delay with Sarkisian’s arrest to avoid “additional tensions” in the country.

News of the first arrests in connection with Naghdalian’s murder was reported by the APT just hours after the closure of polls and publication of first official results indicating a landslide victory for Kocharian. Aram Sarkisian and other opposition leaders supporting defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian say the coincidence testifies to political motives behind the arrests.

“Political motives are clear,” said Vazgen Manukian.

Demirchian, for his part, denied the prosecutors’ suggestions that Armen Sarkisian sought Naghdalian’s death because he suspected the latter of involvement in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament in which his charismatic second brother, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, was assassinated along with seven other officials.

Like the Sarkisian family, Demirchian argued that Naghdalian was a key witness in the parliament attack case and was due to testify at the ongoing trial of the five parliament gunmen.

Demirchian and Manukian spoke to reporters as they visited the late prime minister’s mother Greta protesting her son’s arrest outside the presidential palace in Yerevan for the third consecutive day. Kocharian, however, refused to seek Armen Sarkisian’s release from jail and said only the court can decide to set him free.

(RFE/RL photo: Greta Sarkisian holding the picture of her arrested son during the protest.)
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