Armenia’s chief military prosecutor downplayed on Wednesday the acquittal of three former soldiers who were accused of murder in one of the most controversial criminal investigations ever conducted by his office.
Gevorg Kostanian said a court in Gyumri only ruled on Tuesday that there is not enough evidence to convict Musa Serobian, Arayik Zalian and Razmik Sargsian in the violent death nine years ago of two other soldiers. He also insisted that military prosecutors committed no serious mistakes when investigating the case.
“That [ruling] means there is evidence which the prosecution considers sufficient but the court does not,” Kostanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “We are not talking about what those individuals did or didn’t. We are talking about the investigating body’s failure, according to the court ruling, to present sufficient compelling evidence of their guilt.”
“It’s not a mistake when the prosecuting side claims something but the court arrives at a different conclusion,” he said. “Nobody can say that it would be much more natural if the decisions of prosecutors and courts always coincided.”
The acquitted ex-soldiers were arrested in early 2004 and spent nearly three years in prison on murder charges which they strong deny. Armenia’s highest appeals court set them free and ordered military prosecutors to launch a new inquiry in December 2006. The resulting fresh trial of Serobian, Sargsian and Zalian lasted for more than four years.
The defendants insisted throughout the lengthy court proceedings that they were tortured by military investigators to confess to the accusations. Armenian human rights groups consider the torture claims credible and accuse the prosecution of covering up the crime.
Kostanian said that he continues to consider the three men guilty but has not yet decided whether to appeal their acquittal. “I will formulate a more explicit position after examining the ruling and seeing how each piece of evidence was evaluated by the court,” he said.
Kostanian added that the ex-soldiers might again be placed under investigation if the military prosecutors find “new evidence.” “In this sense we cannot consider the issue closed,” he said.