President Serzh Sarkisian has expressed outrage at what Armenian prosecutors call a murder cover-up that led to the sacking of two high-ranking police officials.
Sarkisian cited the case as he criticized the Armenian police and pledged to crack down on corruption and incompetence within their ranks at an extraordinary meeting with top law-enforcement officials late on Monday.
Major-General Hovannes Tamamian, the controversial head of the Directorate General of Criminal Investigations at the national police service, and Colonel Varuzhan Adamian, the police chief of Yerevan’s Arabkir district, were sacked late last month.
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said through a spokesman that he himself asked the national police chief, Alik Sargsian, to fire the two men because of a botched police investigation into the deadly shooting of a man in Arabkir in May last year. The spokesman, Shahen Tonoyan, said that police investigators deliberately failed to prosecute the murder perpetrator and charged another individual instead.
“The whole public knows that a murder occurred, knows who committed the murder, and yet police officers distorted the case, alleging that it was committed by someone else,” President Sarkisian raged at the police leadership.
“Instead of you, I feel ashamed. You should have been the first to come forward and say to that high-ranking policeman, ‘You immoral type, why are you putting our system to shame?’” he said in an apparent reference to Tamamian.
Sarkisian portrayed the scandal as an example of a lack of professionalism among some police officers. “We don’t need unprofessional policemen,” he said. “Nor do the system and the society need them. Nobody needs them.”
Sarkisian also said that his administration will get tougher on “unacceptable phenomena” like police corruption and abuse of power. He did not specify if that also includes ill-treatment of criminal suspects in police custody, which human rights groups say is commonplace in Armenia.
Opposition leaders on Monday dismissed Sarkisian’s comments, arguing that the sacked police officials have not been prosecuted despite being accused of committing what is a serious crime under Armenian law.
“That has become customary in Armenia,” said Armen Martirosian of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “If somebody is a state official, they would at most fire him. Bit if it’s an ordinary citizen, who committed a very petty crime, they immediately arrest him.”
“There are specific articles in the Criminal Code dealing with that, and that person should have been imprisoned for his actions,” said Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK).
Tamamian has for years been one of Armenia’s most controversial law-enforcement officials. He is thought to have actively participated in police crackdowns on the Armenian opposition ordered by former President Robert Kocharian in 2004 and 2008.
Tamamian was also implicated in the May 2007 death of a man in police custody. Levon Gulian, a Yerevan-based restaurant owner, was found dead after being questioned at the Directorate General of Criminal Investigations. The police claimed that Gulian fell to his death while attempting to escape from a second-floor interrogation room.
Gulian’s family vehemently rejected this theory, saying that the 30-year-old father of two was tortured to death by police investigators. It claimed that Tamamian personally interrogated the victim. The police general denied that, however.