By Karine Kalantarian
State prosecutors have launched criminal proceedings against a trial attorney of a man charged with organizing the killing of state television chief Tigran Naghdalian, saying that he had forged documents to engage in legal counseling four years ago.
The lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, is accused of hushing up his criminal conviction in 1999 when he applied for and obtained a license from one of Armenia’s two bar associations. A former police officer, Arsenian was convicted of bribery and sentenced to four years in prison in 1997. He was released under a general amnesty a year later.
Under Armenian legislation, a person with a prior criminal record can not practice law. Arsenian’s conviction was formally nullified November 2001.
That fact was first revealed by a pro-government newspaper on Thursday and immediately led to Arsenian’s suspension from the ongoing trial of businessman Armen Sarkisian and twelve other men accused of involvement in Naghdalian’s murder. The prosecutors opened a criminal case against the attorney the next day under an article of the Armenian criminal code which carries up to two years in prison.
Arsenian was interrogated on Monday, but declined a comment afterwards. He argued earlier that he joined the Naghdalian murder trial with a fresh license issued by the International Armenian Bar Association, of which he is a member, in 2002.
The association held an emergency meeting over the weekend and decided to launch its own inquiry. Its senior members also refused to comment on the controversy. Some of them accused the prosecutors last week of deliberately provoking the scandal to discredit Arsenian’s case for Sarkisian’s innocence. They said the authorities were aware of Arsenian’s background and did not prevent him from practicing law for the past four years.
But one of the trial prosecutors, Zelim Tadevosian, dismissed the arguments. “If a person conceals his conviction, the prosecutor’s office should not necessarily be aware of that,” he told RFE/RL.
The criminal proceedings came after the prosecutors’ case against Sarkisian, whose brother Aram is a leading figure in the Armenian opposition, suffered a setback in the court earlier this month. A Nagorno-Karabakh man who admitted shooting Naghdalian to death last December withdrew his pre-trial testimony that implicated Sarkisian in the high-profile crime.
Sarkisian and his family strongly deny that he was its main mastermind, saying that the charges are politically motivated. The defendant is now represented by only one lawyer, Robert Grigorian.