By Ruzanna Stepanian
The defense counsel for “Yerevan Zhamanak” newspaper editor Arman Babajanian on trial for draft evasion and forgery on Thursday challenged the integrity of the prosecution claiming that the case against his client was started on the basis of a non-existing person’s statement.
His remarks followed a statement by presiding judge Mnatsakan Martirosian who read out a letter of whom investigators presented as citizen A. Khachatrian, who had allegedly prompted the Prosecutor’s Office that her neighbor, Arman Babajanian, was evading military service.
Robert Grigorian, defending, said the letter did not bear a signature and the prosecutors did not bother to verify its authenticity.
Zhanna Kotikian, prosecuting, objected to the defense’s claims, saying that the letter had been properly signed, with the first and last names of the person. “It is your fault that you did not make sure that all measures were taken to identify the person and establish where that person lived. The person may have changed the place of residence by now,” she said.
Lawyer Grigorian later said to RFE/RL that he had checked with Babajanian’s neighbors and established that the person the prosecutors allude to in fact does not exist. “We checked that Babajanian didn’t have a neighbor by this name. Investigators know well this requirement of the law and they didn’t even try to look for this person. They are breaking the law deliberately,” he said.
During the previous court sitting the editor of the “Yerevan Zhamanak” newspaper pleaded guilty to the accusations of draft evasion.
Prosecutors say Babajanian stole and forged in 2002 legal documents belonging to the family of a former friend living in the United States to illegally avoid compulsory military service in Armenia. According to their indictment read out in a Yerevan district court, the documents included the marriage certificate of Vahe Abovian and his wife Armine as well as the birth certificates of their two children.
Under Armenian law, young men under the age of 27 who have at least two children are exempt from the two-year military duty. Babajanian, 30, studied at an Armenian religious seminary and had his service deferred until 2001 before moving to California in 1998.
But while admitting to the forgery charge, Babajanian insisted that he did not steal the documents from the Abovians. He claimed that the latter willingly provided them to him.
On Thursday, Yerevan’s lower court heard the testimony of Armine Arakelian.
She confirmed that Babajanian had forged the marriage certificate and birth certificates for two children, but she denied having any knowledge of how and for what purposes he did that. She confirmed that she was never married to Babajanian and that her only husband is Vahe Abovian. She also denied having a daughter named Anzhela Arakelian as Babajanian’s documents present.
The court also read out witnesses’ testimony. In particular, Yerevan’s Shengavit military enlistment office worker Tigran Harutiunian and military commissioner Karen Khachatrian said they trusted Babajanian’s mother who introduced herself as an employee of the presidential staff.
Khachatrian said in 2004 Babajanian’s mother produced a certificate according to which her son studied in the United States, was married to a women in the U.S. and had two children.
The court completed the examination of evidence and will proceed with pleadings on September 4.