By Ruzanna StepanianA Yerevan lower court on Friday opened a trial of a U.S. citizen accused of fraud and extortion under Armenian laws.
Hrair Aganikian, an ethnic Armenian who moved to the United States from Armenia in 1989 and received American citizenship shortly, is accused of extorting money from citizens of Armenia, committing fraud and using false evidence.
Meanwhile, Aghanikian’s lawyer Vardan Zurnachian claims his client’s innocence and accuses investigators of fabricating the case.
The investigation into the allegations against Aganikian began following a suit by eight citizens of Armenia who accused him of extorting money from them and using double debt receipts.
Meanwhile, the defense attorney says Aganikian simply lent money to them (he claims a total of $100,000 was lent), and has not received that money back yet. He suspects a secret dealing between the plaintiffs and investigators. “On many occasions we expressed our suspicions on that account, but all of them were brushed aside,” Zurnachian said, adding that investigators may have been bribed by the plaintiffs.
According to the lawyer, the criminal charges against Aganikian were brought in July 2005, but the Prosecutor of the Kentron and Nork-Marash community of Yerevan did not confirm the charges then and sent the case back for preliminary investigation. However, Zurnachian says, the change of the investigator did not change the situation and the further investigation was as superficial as before, since ‘no circumstances or evidence that could be used to drop the charges were actually checked.’
Aganikian’s brothers, residing in the U.S., also came to Armenia and were present at the courtroom. No representative of the plaintiff, however, was available for comment, as none of them attended the trial on Friday. The court decided to postpone the trial until September 6.
Meanwhile, the United States Embassy in Armenia is closely watching the trial of Aganikian. Consul Mary Stickles, who was at the court, said: “I am here to observe the trial, because we are always concerned that American citizens get a fair trial under the laws of Armenia.”