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 August 22, 2003 


On Trial: Accused speaks in case of murdered journalist


John Harutyunyan testified that he was contracted to kill Tigran Naghdalyan.

The third session of the Tigran Naghdalyan murder trial finished this week, with testimony from the man who previously admitted committing the murder.

Veteran television journalist Naghdalyan was shot to death last December 28. At the time of his death he was chairman of the board of directors of the Public Television and Radio of Armenia, a post appointed by President Robert Kocharyan.

Naghdalyan's murder has been linked by some to his expected appearance in court to testify in the trial of Nairy Hunanyan and others charged with the assassinations of seven government officials, October 27, 1999.

John Harutyunyan, in his mid-30s, a father of four and resident of the town of Martuni, Nagorno Karabakh, appeared calm in an otherwise tense courtroom where he is charged as Naghdalyan's killer.

Others are charged with complicity in the crime, including Armen Sargsyan, brother of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, one of the victims of the October 1999 killings in Parliament.

Sargsyan is accused of having ordered Naghdalyan's death and allegedly offering $75,000 to have the murder carried out. Other defendants have fully or partially admitted guilt. Sargsyan has maintained that he is innocent.

Before a full courtroom, Harutyunyan said he had a meeting last September with an acquaintance, Gegham Shahbazyan, in Hadrut, Karabakh.

"He offered for me to commit a murder and I agreed," Harutyunyan said.

The target was a journalist named Tigran, Harutyunyan testified, and elaborating on the subsequent events told the court:

Harutyunyan and defendant Felix Arustamyan came to Yerevan and then to Ararat to a meeting in a small restaurant owned by defendant Liova Harutyunyan (Armen Sargsyan is godfather to Liova Harutyunyan's children).

At the meeting defendant Gegham Shahbazyan said that Liova Harutyunyan was offering $30,000 for a contract killing.

"He told me: 'There is a journalist, who is writing wrong things and he is an organizer of the October 27 incident. He gave false documents to Nairy Hunanyan and he is making programs against Sargsyan's family. Can you do that?'" John Harutyunyan testified.

"I said that I could, but that 30 (thousand) isn't enough, I need 100 (thousand). Gegham said 50 (thousand)."

Two days later John Harutyunyan again met Shahbazyan at the restaurant, where he learned that Liova Harutyunyan turned down the bid of $100,000. Shahbazyan said he would take care of financing the murder.

(Defendants Sargsyan and Shahbazyan were excluded from hearing John Harutyunyan's testimony.)

John Harutyunyan continued:

He spent 15 days stalking Naghdalyan and once had an opportunity to shoot him, but lost his nerve. Then he was ordered to kill the journalist before New Year's Day. He said he was not aware of Naghdalyan's position or of his stature as a widely-known journalist.

On December 28 John Harutyunyan followed Tigran Naghdalyan. The killer hid in the entrance to Zakyan Street No. 8 where he killed Naghdalyan with one shot to the head.

On December 30, John Harutyunyan testified, Shahbazyan paid him $19,000 and took him to Karabakh. He never got any more money.

Several times John Harutyunyan's testimony was interrupted by questions from attorneys. He refused to answer all of them saying: "I don't answer questions. That's it. I've said what I've said. I don't say I haven't done it, but I refuse to answer questions."

John Harutyunyan said he will only answer questions after the other defendants testify.

The only question he answered was one posed by the judge. Asked whether the crime had been committed with a "TT" pistol, John Harutyunyan answered yes.

Prosecutors said John Harutyunyan's testimony in court contained "serious differences" from testimony he gave during the preliminary investigation. In the preliminary investigation, John Harutyunyan is said to have indicated that he understood that Naghdalyan's murder was ordered by relatives of Vazgen Sargsyan.

John Harutyunyan testified that published statements signed by him confirming the prosecutors' account of his preliminary testimony were not his.

"I didn't see and read testimonies. I just signed a document they gave me," he told the court.

That statement was met with applause by relatives of Sargsyan in the courtroom, which started a quarrel with supporters of the Naghdalyan family. The tense atmosphere became more heated in a hallway next to the courtroom until police stepped in to disperse the crowd.

During a previous session, defendant Armen Sargsyan appealed to his supporters in the courtroom to remain calm and not offend or harm anyone. "You won't help me by doing that, you will only cause problems for me," he said.

The next session of the trial is scheduled for September 2.

 

 



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