By Karine Kalantarian
A Yerevan court investigating the murder of Armenian state television chief Tigran Naghdalian delayed on Thursday the long-awaited cross-examination of a key suspect after he promised to elaborate on his pre-trial testimony against businessman Armen Sarkisian charged with masterminding the crime.
Presiding judge Saro Aramian, who was until now keen to rule out any delays in the trial, promptly decided to postpone the proceedings until next Tuesday after Hovannes Harutiunian’s government-appointed attorney claimed to feel unwell. Aramian made the decision without inquiring about the cause of lawyer’s stated health problem. The latter declined any medical aid.
Harutiunian, better known with his “Aper” nickname, was allegedly responsible for arranging Naghdalian’s assassination last December. Citing his pre-trial written deposition, the prosecution claims that he was paid $75,000 for hiring two hitmen from Nagorno-Karabakh. One of them has confessed to Naghdalian’s fatal shooting.
Sarkisian, however, has denied any involvement in the killing and told the investigators after his arrest last March that we was blackmailed by Harutiunian into paying the money after the crime. His brother, opposition leader Aram Sarkisian, and sympathizers say the charges were fabricated by the authorities to discredit President Robert Kocharian’s political opponents.
Harutiunian, who is a cousin of the Sarkisian brothers, announced on Wednesday that he has “something to add” to his written testimony and has already put his fresh information on paper. That appeared to cause unease among the two trial prosecutors. In a highly unusual move, they reminded the suspect of his right not to speak or answer any questions in the court which was exercised by another major defendant, Lyova Harutiunian (no relation to “Aper.”)
Lyova Harutiunian, who is Armen Sarkisian’s godfather, had testified to the investigators that he was the original initiator of Naghdalian’s killing as he believed that the state TV chief had a hand in the 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament. He said he withdrew from the plot shortly afterwards.
According to the prosecutors, the conspiracy went ahead anyway, with “Aper” securing payment from Armen Sarkisian. Lyova Harutiunian claims that he personally heard the latter saying that he commissioned the murder.
Aram Sarkisian, meanwhile, said the prosecutors fear that verbal explanations by the defendants may shatter the credibility of their case against his brother. “Under a scenario drawn up by the prosecutor’s office, all defendants were to refuse to give testimony in the court,” he told RFE/RL. “But Hovannes Harutiunian disrupted that plan.”