“Every Armenian must realize that if they approach a child with other [illicit] purposes, they will face irreversible consequences. This must be a state policy,” said Artur Ghambarian, a senior official from the Office of the Prosecutor-General.
Citing official court statistics, Ghambarian complained that only three of 18 pedophilia-related trials that took place in Armenia in 2009 resulted in the imprisonment of suspects. “In the other cases, the punishment was fines,” he said.
Under the Armenian Criminal Code, sex with individuals aged under 17, child molestation and sexual harassment of minors are crimes punishable by 100,000-dram ($275) fines and prison sentences of up to two years.
Local non-governmental organizations dealing with child protection believe that the punishment is too soft. One of them, the Women’s Resource Center, has proposed amendments to the code that would eliminate the fines and extend the maximum prison sentence for the crime to six years.
Ghambarian backed the idea in principle. “If we remove the fines from the Criminal Code, neither the prosecutors, nor the courts will have an alternative to imprisonment,” he said at a joint news conference with some NGO activists.
The prosecutor did not specify whether his views reflect the official position of his law-enforcement agency.
According to Armenia’s Judicial Department, over the past decade, about 100 underage Armenians have fallen victim to instances of pedophilia investigated by law-enforcement authorities. Ghambarian agreed that the real number of such victims may be higher.
The Yerevan newspaper “Hetq” reported on Monday that Vahram Parsadanian, a 25—year-old local man, has threatened to publicize purported video evidence of their past sex contacts if Der-Boghossian does not pay him $30,000. The paper quoted another, unnamed young man as saying that he too had sex with the American businessman of Armenian descent in the past.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Der-Boghossian accused Parsadanian of blackmail and dismissed the sex allegations as an attempt to discredit him. He blamed the scandal on unnamed local individuals who he said are “jealous” about his business and charitable activities. “There is no family, no person here whom I haven’t helped,” he said.
Parsadanian and his family refused a comment. Both the young man and his mother work for Metal Prince.
Der-Boghossian is known to have had an uneasy relationship with Akhtala’s Mayor Hayk Khachikian and the latter’s Yerevan-based brother Vazgen, who ran Armenia’s state pension fund until last December. The mayor insisted on Wednesday that he has a “normal” rapport with the middle-aged businessman and was not behind the allegations echoed by some NGO activists in Yerevan.
“The whole Akhtala knows about those crimes,” said Tatevik Bezhanian, who runs a project against child trafficking at the Yerevan office of the Czech charity People in Need. “People know the children having sex with that person and even the amount of cash paid to them.”
The scandal has clearly been an embarrassment for Prime Minister Sarkisian, who had hired Der-Boghossian as an adviser. A spokesman for Sarkisian, Aram Ananian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the businessman working for the government on December 31 for reasons unrelated to the scandal.
The Metal Prince owner was listed as a prime-ministerial adviser on the Armenian government’s website until Monday, however.
“I find no words to express my feelings,” Sarkisian wrote on his blog late Monday. “I can only promise to ensure that the investigation prompted by that report will be speedy, comprehensive and transparent.”
The police chief and the chief prosecutor of the Lori province encompassing Akhtala told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that local law-enforcement bodies have received no video evidence of the alleged pedophile acts. The prosecutor, Karen Shahbazian, said they are nonetheless investigating the allegations. Shahbazian unexpectedly went on vacation on Wednesday.
Ghambarian, the Yerevan-based senior prosecutor, said the alleged victims need “special protection” and urged the Inspectorate General of Investigations of the national police to “urgently” take over the inquiry.
“Or else, the kids will refuse to testify in exchange for just 20,000 drams and the case will be closed,” he warned. “If the case remains in Lori, I don’t think it will lead to serious consequences because, as I said, we have a serious problem with the protection of victims.”