By Ruzanna Stepanian
One of the two men charged with assassinating a senior Armenian tax official has been released from pre-trial detention pending investigation, law-enforcement authorities said on Wednesday.
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General told RFE/RL that businessman Gurgen Virabian was set free on Tuesday due to his worsened health condition. She said prosecutors allowed him to receive unrestricted medical treatment because they believe that he can not obstruct their ongoing investigation into the September 6 car explosion that killed Shahen Hovasapian, head of a State Tax Service division tasked with detecting and punishing tax evasion.
The daylight blast rocked Hovasapian’s car moments after he and his son got into it outside their home in downtown Yerevan. President Robert Kocharian personally condemned the apparent contract killing, linking it with the STS’s “efforts to tighten tax administration and create equal taxation conditions for everyone.”
Virabian and his brother Armen, who worked in the STS unit headed by Hovasapian, were arrested and charged with organizing the crime on September 16. They remain the sole criminal suspects in the high-profile case.
The brothers deny the accusations that seem to be based on testimony given by the slain official’s driver, Andranik Charchian. Charchian told the investigators that two days before the blast the Virabians lured him to an expensive Yerevan restaurant for a dinner that lasted for two hours and apparently had an explosive device planted under Hovasapian’s government-owned car in the process.
Newspaper reports said on Wednesday that Charchian has decided to retract his testimony which the suspects’ lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, has repeatedly described as “false.” Truzian refused to confirm or deny this, saying only that the accusations leveled against the brothers will not be dropped.
Arsenian said that he will pick up the reports to demand that the driver be again interrogated by the investigators in his presence. He accused them of putting “psychological pressure” on Charchian.