By Karine Kalantarian
The two men arrested last week on suspicion of murdering Shahen Hovasapian, a senior official at Armenia’s State Taxation Service (STS), flatly deny any involvement in the high-profile crime, their defense counsel said on Monday.
Armen Virabian, who also holds a senior position in the STS, and his businessman brother Gurgen were formally charged with three counts of premeditated murder and remanded in pre-trial custody at the weekend. A former police officer, Virabian ran an important investigative unit within an STS department which was headed by the assassinated official.
Law-enforcement authorities have made no other arrests so far and refuse to divulge other details of their ongoing criminal investigation. It is not clear if they consider the brothers to be the main masterminds of the September 6 car bombing that left Hovasapian dead.
“I have come to the conclusion that there is no evidence against my clients,” the Virabians’ lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL.
“The only ‘evidence’ cited by them is the [Hovasapian] driver’s claim that Armen Virabian tried to be friends with him of late,” he said. “But to say that Armen Virabian could have therefore planted the bomb is just wild speculation.”
According to law-enforcement sources, the investigators believe that two days before the blast Virabian lured the driver to an expensive Yerevan restaurant for a dinner that lasted for two hours and had an explosive device planted under Hovasapian’s government-owned car in the process. Arsenian admitted that Virabian had developed a “very friendly rapport” with the driver but suggested that the latter was forced by the investigators to incriminate his client.
The blast ripped through the front passenger seat occupied by Hovasapian moments after the influential official and his young son got into the car outside their luxury apartment building in downtown Yerevan.
President Robert Kocharian condemned the killing and linked it with the STS’s “efforts to tighten tax administration and create equal taxation conditions for everyone.” Kocharian was said to have instructed law-enforcement bodies to solve it “as soon as possible.”