By Hrach Melkumian
The brother of opposition leader Aram Sarkisian on Tuesday formally pleaded not guilty to accusations of organizing the assassination of the head of Armenia’s state television and radio, Tigran Naghdalian.
Businessman Armen Sarkisian, who has been kept in detention since March, insisted on his innocence after prosecutors read out their indictment during the second court hearing in the trial of 13 individuals allegedly involved in the murder.
Most of them, including the man who allegedly shot Naghdalian to death last December, pleaded guilty to the charges. The man, John Harutiunian, is a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh. He was initially arrested by local authorities for illegal possession of weapons.
The judge running the proceedings, Saribek Aramian, accepted prosecutors’ request to remove Sarkisian from the courtroom during the cross-examination of six of the defendants. The prosecutors argued that his presence could deter them from telling the truth.
Among those defendants is Hovannes Harutiunian, a distant relative of the Sarkisian family who was allegedly paid $75,000 by the businessman to arrange Naghdalian’s killing. Sarkisian, however, says that he was “blackmailed” by Harutiunian after the shooting and paid the money because he feared for his life.
The prosecutors claim that Sarkisian plotted to kill Naghdalian because he felt that the latter was involved in the assassination of his second brother, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament. A Russian lawyer who represents the Sarkisian family at the separate trial of the perpetrators of the parliament attackers has repeatedly implicated Naghdalian, a strong supporter of President Robert Kocharian, in the massacre. The Sarkisian brothers suspect Kocharian of masterminding it.
Their attorney, Oleg Yunoshev, announced on Tuesday that he will demand that the judge presiding over the parliament gunmen’s trial subpoena Kocharian and his most trusted lieutenant, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Yunoshev also insisted that judge Samvel Uzunian question over a hundred individuals officially listed as witnesses of the parliament attack.
Uzunian decided on Monday not to hear their testimony in the court, saying that it is no longer important.