By Karine Kalantarian
The politically sensitive trial of individuals charged in the murder of state television chief Tigran Naghdalian descended into angry spats Tuesday as its presiding judge struggled to force an attorney for the key defendant out of the courtroom.
The judge, Saro Aramian, upheld his earlier decision to suspend lawyer Hovik Arsenian from the proceedings on the grounds that the latter had allegedly hid his criminal record when obtaining a law license in 1999. Arsenian refused to comply, saying that the order is illegal and politically motivated.
“I insist that the law be respected,” he shouted before being forced to leave the courtroom under police escort. Aramian accused him of “absolute contempt of the court.”
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 as long as their conviction remains in force. Arsenian’s conviction was formally nullified in November 2001.
State prosecutors opened criminal proceedings against the lawyer on fraud charges late last week. Arsenian argues that the judge can not bar him from participating in the trial before the inquiry is over.
Significantly, the attorney for Naghdalian’s family, Ruben Rshtuni, backed his position, setting off a separate angry verbal exchange with one of the trial prosecutors, Zelim Tadevosian. Rshtuni also accused the judge of committing other procedural violations. The prosecutor, infuriated by the criticism, challenged the lawyer’s professional fitness.
The disputes further delayed the questioning of more defendants. Only two of them, including the man who confessed to murdering Naghdalian, have been cross-examined so far. They both dealt a blow to the prosecution’s claims that the crime was masterminded by Armen Sarkisian, a businessman and brother of two former Armenian prime ministers. One of them, Aram Sarkisian, is now a prominent figure in Armenia’s largest opposition alliance.
Armen Sarkisian and his family have repeatedly denied the charges.