A longtime friend of Samvel Babayan insisted on Monday that he, rather than the retired army general linked to an Armenian opposition group, was behind the illegal acquisition of a sophisticated rocket system that led to their arrest in March.
Babayan, who was Nagorno-Karabakh’s top military commander from 1993-1993, was arrested after Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated the surface-to-air Igla system. The arrest came about two weeks before Armenia’s parliamentary elections.
Babayan was unofficially affiliated with the ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and two other opposition politicians. ORO condemned the criminal case as politically motivated.
Babayan, his comrade-in-arms Sanasar Gabrielian, and five other men went on trial in July. The once powerful general has repeatedly denied prosecutors’ claims that he promised other suspects to pay $50,000 for the delivery of the weapon.
Gabrielian also denied any connection with the weapon until now. But he said at the latest court hearing in their trial that it was he who commissioned the confiscated Igla. He claimed that he wanted to donate the launcher along with its shoulder-fired rockets to Nagorno-Karabakh’s army.
Gabrielian insisted that Babayan was not involved in that in any way. He said he only showed the general a photograph of the acquired Igla system because the latter “knows everything” about weapons. Babayan, he went on, told him that the rocket launcher lacks some components and is therefore not usable in its current form before advising him to hide it in a Karabakh village.
Babayan did not deny this version of events at the court hearing. He said only that he warned Gabrielian that the Igla acquisition was illegal.
Another defendant, Armen Poghosian, suggested in his pre-trial testimony that Babayan is most probably the one who ordered the weapon. Petrosian renounced that claim in the courtroom on Monday, however.
The NSS said in July the Igla system was transported to Karabakh and hidden near a local village after it was delivered by an Armenian national who was arrested in Georgia later in March. The security agency never clarified, however, why the former Karabakh army chief sought to get hold of the rockets designed to shoot down planes and helicopters.