The lawyer for a man shot and wounded outside the home of Suren Khachatrian, a controversial regional governor sacked last month, on Tuesday strongly criticized the criminal investigation into the deadly incident.
Hayk Alumian accused military prosecutors overseeing the inquiry of “helping” Khachatrian’s son Tigran and one of his bodyguards arrested in connection with the June 1 gunfight in Goris, a town in the southeastern Syunik province.
Avetik Budaghian, a local businessman, was shot dead in the still mysterious incident that also involved his brother Artak, an army colonel. The latter as well as one of Khachatrian’s bodyguards were seriously wounded. Khachatrian, who governed Syunik for almost a decade, claims to have slept in his Goris villa as the two groups of armed clashed at its doorstep.
Despite his claims of innocence, Khachatrian was forced to step down on Jun 5. A senior member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), he has frequently been linked with violence in the past.
Military prosecutors have indicated that the ex-governor is unlikely to be prosecuted in connection with Avetik Budaghian’s murder. They have also referred to the late-night incident as an “armed attack” on Khachatrian’s residence.
Alumian, who represents Artak Budaghian, last month petitioned the military investigators to formally declare his client a “victim” in the case. The investigators have effectively dismissed the request.
Gevorg Kostanian, Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, argued late last week that they still need to conduct many “investigative activities” before clarifying Artak Budaghian’s legal status. He also did not rule out the possibility of Budaghian’s prosecution.
Alumian denounced this stance, saying that the law-enforcement authorities seem to be preparing ground for criminal proceedings against the army officer, who is still recovering in a hospital. “The situation is shameful,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“I am afraid that they are gradually preparing the public for a theory that both sides are equally responsible for what happened in Goris,” the lawyer said. “They are thereby attempting to help the opposite side.”
Ruben Sahakian, a prominent attorney representing the ex-governor’s arrested son, dismissed those claims. “I believe that the investigating body did the right thing,” Aravot.am quoted him as saying.
The Goris shootout took place just hours after Khachatrian hosted a dinner for several regional dignitaries, including the Budaghian brothers. The governor notorious for violent conduct reportedly argued with Avetik Budaghian during that party.