By Emil Danielyan
Police said on Friday that they are still investigating last month's high-profile car crash in Yerevan that killed two people and highlighted widespread disregard for traffic rules by Armenia’s wealthiest citizens.
A spokesman for the national Police Service, Armen Malkhasian, told RFE/RL that a 31-year-old unemployed man is the only suspect to face trial on charges of negligent driving. Malkhasian reaffirmed the initial police conclusion that the man, identified as Armen Tovmasian, was at the wheel of an exclusive SUV that rammed a taxi and two other vehicles on a busy street intersection near the city center on January 30.
The accident left the taxi driver and one of his passengers, a 30-year-old woman, dead. Her husband and 2-year-old daughter rode in the same car and were among at least six other people injured in the crash.
The official version of events contrasted with unofficial accounts from the scene. Citing unnamed eyewitness, some newspapers claimed that the U.S.-made Hummer jeep was driven by a young woman and had at least three male passengers.
Tovmasian was reportedly admitted into Yerevan’s Erebuni hospital immediately after the crash. The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” quoted a doctor there as saying a few days later that he was suffering from a heart trouble. The doctor said his condition was so serious that she did not allow police officers to interrogate him.
However, a hospital source told RFE/RL this week that Tovmasian never required intensive care and was kept in a “VIP ward” reserved for the wealthiest and most influential patients of the private clinic. The source said he spent there at least a week before being detained by the police.
According to Malkhasian, Tovmasian was charged with manslaughter before a Yerevan court released him on bail pending trial. The police official said the pre-trial inquiry is not yet over because investigators are still conducting “forensic examinations.” He refused to give further details.
Causing widespread distrust in the official theory is the type of the vehicle widely blamed for the deaths and its license plates identified by the police as 77 SS 776. The Hummer is the civilian version of the U.S. military’s Humvee personnel carriers and costs at least $50,000 in the United States.
There are only 11 such cars registered in Armenia. Among their owners are some of the country’s richest men that have close government connections. They, as well as many other well-to-do Armenians, find it important and prestigious to have as many repeating numbers on their cars’ license plates as possible.
Several 8 numbers, for example, indicate their ownership by millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian, while 6s are seen as the exclusive domain of another “oligarch,” Samvel Aleksanian.
License plates with many 7s have a broader circle of owners, among them a brother of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and a top army general. But neither man has been linked to the January 30 accident, both officially and unofficially. Among the names figuring in the rumor mill are those of close relatives of two other government ministers, Hovik Abrahamian and Andranik Manukian.
According to the police, Tovmasian is the de facto owner of the delinquent Hummer. The man’s occupation and sources of income are not known, however. The car was previously owned by a certain Rafael Ghazarian who reportedly lives in the U.S. “Haykakan Zhamanak” has found that Ghazarian is a cousin of an Armenian crime figure also based in the U.S.
Luxury cars, especially those with “fancy” numbers, routinely ignore traffic lights and breach speed limits in Yerevan. Armenia’s notoriously corrupt traffic police rarely stop or fine them.