The son and a bodyguard of Suren Khachatrian were remanded in pre-trial custody on Tuesday on charges of murdering a man outside the home of the controversial governor of Armenia’s Syunik province.
A local court allowed military investigators to keep the 19-year-old Tigran Khachatrian and the 25-year-old Zarzand Nikoghosian under arrest for up to two months. It rejected defense lawyers’ plea to free them on bail.
The two young men are being kept in the Nubarashen prison near Yerevan. They were also charged with illegal arms possession.
The suspects were detained in the provincial town of Goris at the weekend just hours after the late-night fatal shooting of Artak Budaghian, a 42-year-old local businessman who has been at loggerheads with the governor. Budaghian’s brother Artak and another man, who worked for the Khachatrians, were seriously wounded in still unclear circumstances.
Artak Budaghian, who is a senior Armenian army colonel, was transported to a military hospital in Yerevan and underwent two surgeries there. A senior doctor told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the officer has regained consciousness but remains in intensive care.
The criminal investigation is being conducted by military prosecutors because of Budaghian’s affiliation with the armed forces.
The fatal shooting of Avetik Budaghian sparked a public outcry in the country against what Armenians see as impunity enjoyed by powerful government loyalists, forcing Khachatrian to announce his legally questionable “temporary” resignation on Monday. The Armenian government has not accepted or even confirmed the resignation.
There are lingering questions about Khachatrian’s involvement in the crime. The governor has a long history of violent conduct documented by the Armenian media and human rights groups.
The reasons for the shootout remain unclear. It reportedly occurred several hours after a dinner that was hosted by Khachatrian near Goris on Saturday. It was attended by Nagorno-Karabakh’s President Bako Sahakian and several Syunik dignitaries, including the Budaghian brothers. According to unconfirmed news reports, the governor had a bitter argument with Avetik Budaghian during the dinner.