By Armen Zakarian
Armenian prosecutors’ efforts to prove that former prison chief Mushegh Saghatelian sought “false testimony” to implicate President Robert Kocharian in the 1999 parliament shootings suffered a major setback on Thursday when their key witness painted a different picture.
A former police informant who shared a prison cell with one of the attack suspects in 1999-2000 told a Yerevan court that he himself promised Saghatelian to find credible evidence linking Kocharian to the assassinations.
Saghatelian, who ran Armenia’s prisons until 2001, is the only public figure who has publicly alleged that the massacre was the work of Kocharian and his closest ally, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. He went on trial on March 13 on a string of charges most of which are related to the mistreatment of detainees.
The accusation that he tried to falsely implicate the president in the parliament attack is only a small part of the criminal case against Saghatelian. It appeared short on evidence after the court testimony of Harutiun Grigorian, a former convict recruited by the investigators to obtain confidential information from Mushegh Movsisian, a parliament deputy and former suspect.
Movsisian was arrested and charged with complicity in the parliament killings in November 1999. He was cleared of the charges and released from Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison several months later. He spent there some time with Grigorian who was serving a jail sentence for theft at the time.
Grigorian said during his cross-examination that he himself decided to approach the former prison boss shortly after his release last June. He said he promised the latter to find a non-existent audio record of deputy Movsisian’s conversation with Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the parliament gunmen, that took place several months before the bloodbath.
Grigorian said Saghatelian in turn promised to pay him $50,000 in exchange for the audio cassette. Pressed by the defendant’s lawyer, he admitted that he made Saghatelian think that there is such a cassette. He added that their contacts discontinued after the Saghatelian realized that he is being “fooled” by the former informant.
Saghatelian insist that the case brought against him is politically motivated. His supporters, mostly affiliated with the opposition Hanrapetutyun party, say that the authorities decided to prosecute him for the widely reported human rights abuses only after he blamed the murder of former prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials on Kocharian.
But government supporters counter that Saghatelian should have been brought to account sooner or later.