A district court in Yerevan began on Thursday the trial of six men accused of plotting to assassinate Gagik Khachatrian, the head of Armenia’s State Revenue Committee (SRC), on alleged orders from one of his former senior employees.
The defendants, among them a former security officer, were among nine persons arrested a year ago in a criminal investigation into the May 2009 explosion near Khachatrian’s Yerevan apartment. The blast was reportedly caused by a homemade explosive device planted in a construction site adjacent to the apartment block located in the city center. Nobody was hurt by it.
Law-enforcement authorities identified Robert Yeritsian, a former head of an anti-smuggling department at the Armenian customs service, as the main mastermind of what they say was a botched attempt on Khachatrian’s life. Yeritsian fled Armenia at the time and remains on the run. He has flatly denied the accusations through his father Albert, a wealthy businessman who governed Yerevan’s northern Arabkir district until June 2009.
Robert Yeritsian was fired in April 2008 shortly after being harshly criticized by President Serzh Sarkisian in front of television cameras. The customs service was headed by Khachatrian at the time. It was merged with the State Tax Service into a single agency, the SRC, later in 2008.
In a more than 100-page indictment read out in the court, a trial prosecutor stood by the investigators’ claims that Yeritsian hired, through a middleman, a criminal group and paid it $150,000 to kill Khachatrian. The gang was allegedly led by Gagik Matevosian, a former deputy commander of a special operations squad of Armenian interior troops.
Matevosian and the other defendants face a long list of charges, including a murder attempt, illegal arms possession and “banditism.” They also stand accused of plotting to assassinate Sarkisian and former President Robert Kocharian. The prosecutors did not elaborate on this hitherto unknown allegation at the opening session of the trial.
All but one defenders pleaded not guilty to the murder accusations. Matevosian admitted to only illegally keeping weapons, ammunition and explosive materials. “The accusation of a murder attempt will not be substantiated in the court,” his lawyer, Anahit Yesayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“They call it a gang, but even according to prosecutors, not a single crime was completed by them,” said Tigran Atanesian, another defense lawyer. His client, Rafael Masumian, is accused of having acted as an intermediary between the alleged ringleader and the fugitive Yeritsian.
Relatives of the accused men, who packed the courtroom, also insisted on their innocence. Some claimed to have been intimidated and threatened by law-enforcement officials during the pre-trial investigation.
The trial will continue on July 23.