A parliament deputy who was until recently Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian’s chief bodyguard has been convicted of violent assault and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
Nevertheless, Eduard Babayan will avoid imprisonment because of a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities late last year.
Babayan, 47, was arrested in July last year after a 50-year-old man, Vyacheslav Harutiunov, was hospitalized in Yerevan with severe injuries. The latter claimed to have been beaten up at a compound of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee headed by Tsarukian. He said he was hit by Tsarukian before being repeatedly kicked and punched by Babayan and another person.
Both Tsarukian and Babayan strongly denied the allegation. The burly bodyguard was charged even though his alleged victim later retracted his incriminating testimony. He was freed on bail in August and elected to the Armenian parliament on the BHK ticket in December.
Babayan continued to protest his innocence when he went on trial last month. Harutiunov likewise maintained in court he had “slipped” and injured himself. “There were no arguments between us, we are friends,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service after a March 21 court hearing.
In a police video released in July, Harutiunov said that he was attacked after imploring Tsarukian to get Armenian law-enforcement authorities to withdraw an international arrest warrant issued for his son accused of draft evasion. The young man is a boxer and Russian national who was told to serve in Armenia’s armed forces after receiving Armenian citizenship in order to compete for the South Caucasus country in international tournaments.
Prosecutors cited this and other purported evidence of Babayan’s guilt during the trial. The judge in the case sided with them, handing down a guilty verdict late on Friday.
Babayan’s lawyer, Armen Melkonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Saturday that his client will appeal against the verdict.
Tsarukian voiced support for Babayan when he spoke to journalists on Monday. “Babayan is going to appeal … because no such [violent] thing happened,” he said.
Babayan had said earlier that he will resign from the parliament is he is convicted of assault. Tsarukian indicated that his former bodyguard will not do that for now.
Armenian media have repeatedly implicated Tsarukian’s bodyguards -- and Babayan in particular -- in violence, including against opponents of former governments, in the past. The BHK leader, who is also one of the country’s richest men, always denied those claims.