An Armenian court on Friday fined a senior army officer 120,000 drams ($250) in connection with a 2013 shootout outside the home of Suren Khachatrian, a controversial provincial governor, which left his brother dead.
The court in the southeastern Syunik province run by Khachatrian found Colonel Artak Budaghian guilty of threatening to kill the governor and his family members during a bitter dispute that ended in bloodshed.
Budaghian was seriously wounded while his businessman brother Avetik killed in the incident that occurred outside Khachatrian’s villa in Goris, a town in Syunik, in June 2013. Khachatrian’s elder son Tigran and one of his bodyguards were arrested in the following days on charges of shooting the brothers. But they were cleared of the murder charges and set free two months later.
Law-enforcement authorities said the gunshots fired by them constituted legitimate self-defense. They dismissed suggestions that the fatal gunshots might have been fired by the governor. The latter claimed to have slept in his room during the shootings.
Despite denying any involvement, Suren Khachatrian was sacked in the wake of the 2013 incident. But he was reinstated as Syunik governor a year later, sparking renewed allegations by the Armenian opposition and civil society about impunity enjoyed by thuggish government loyalists.
Artak Budaghian was the sole defendant in a trial stemming from the Goris shootings. According to the prosecutors’ indictment read out in the court, Budaghian rushed to the villa with a hunting rifle and voiced death threats against the Khachatrian family moments after being told by Avetik that the governor assaulted him in his car.
The colonel denied any wrongdoing throughout his trial. In his final court remarks on Thursday, he urged the judge to hand down a verdict which “you won’t be ashamed of.”
Budaghian’s lawyer Hayk Alumian, meanwhile, again alleged a high-level cover-up of the Goris killing. “It was predictable to us that a judge living in Syunik will be extremely inhibited in handling a case involving Surik Khachatrian,” Alumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), commenting on the ruling against his client.
The murder case took a new twist last month when Budaghian’s second brother, Ara, and three other men were arrested and charged with attempting to assassinate Suren Khachatrian. The Syunik governor, his driver and assistant claimed to have come under fire as they travelled from the provincial capital Kapan to Goris in May. None of them was hurt, even though photographs released by law-enforcement authorities showed their car riddled with bullets.
All four suspects deny the charges levelled against them by the National Security Service (NSS).
The alleged attempt on Khachatrian’s life came over two weeks after yet another violent incident involving his thuggish son and other, equally notorious relatives. Two Goris men were severely injured in an attack which they say was led by Tigran Khachatrian. The latter was taken into custody and charged with assault late last month. If convicted, he will face between 3 and 7 years’ imprisonment.