By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian law-enforcement authorities have arrested a man who they believe carried out the assassination of a high-ranking tax official in a car blast last September, it emerged on Monday.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General told RFE/RL that the 32-year-old man, identified as Hayk Israelian, was arrested last Wednesday and charged with planting and setting off an explosive device that killed Shahen Hovasapian, head of a State Tax Service division tasked with detecting and punishing tax evasion.
The daylight blast rocked Hovasapian’s car moments after he got into it outside his expensive apartment in downtown Yerevan.
One of the official’s top subordinates, Armen Virabian, and his brother Gurgen were arrested shortly afterwards on charges of engineering the apparent contract killing. Both men strongly denied the accusations and were eventually released from custody pending trial.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, said that the detained suspect is unemployed and has a criminal record. Truzian would not say if he has confessed to the charges or whether the prosecutors have also identified the mastermind of the high-profile crime.
According to an unconfirmed report by Yerkir-Media television, Israelian has close ties with an influential member of Armenia’s parliament. The TV channel did not give the lawmaker’s name.
It is thus not yet clear if the investigators see any connection between and Israelian and the Virabians, who own a furniture and construction materials company. The brothers’ lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL that the accusations leveled against his clients have not been dropped.
The accusations are reportedly based on testimony given by the slain official’s driver. The latter told the investigators that two days before the blast the Virabians lured him to an expensive Yerevan restaurant for a dinner that lasted for two hours and apparently had an explosive device planted under Hovasapian’s unattended government car in the process.
President Robert Kocharian personally condemned Hovasapian’s murder, linking it to tax authorities’ efforts “efforts to tighten tax administration and create equal taxation conditions for everyone.”