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 September 19, 2003 


Naghdalyan case: Trial enters interrogation stage


Hovik Arsenyan, the attourney of Armen Sargsyan, was temporarily dismissed by the judge.

The trial of the man accused of ordering the killing of journalist Tigran Naghdalyan has been plunged into controversy over the defendant's attorney.

Judge Saribek Aramyan dismissed Hovik Arsenyan from the court after it was claimed that the lawyer concealed a criminal conviction and presented a false licence to the court. Under Armenian law, a lawyer with a criminal record can not practice again until the conviction is spent.

Arsenyan is representing Armen Sargsyan, who is on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of the former television chief for $75,000. Sargsysan is a brother of the murdered former prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan.

The Chief Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation of the allegations by prosecutor Zelim Tadevosyan against Arsenyan. The Armenian International Union of Lawyers also met to consider the issue but has made no decision so far on whether to deprive Arsenyan of his licence.

Arsenyan returned to the court on Tuesday and argued that the judge had no right to remove him temporarily from the case. After heated argument, Judge Aramyan ordered police to escort Arsenyan from the court room.

Following further legal argument between Tadevosyan and Ruben Rshtuni, the lawyer defending the rights of the personal representative of the victim, the session was adjourned. This was the fourth failed session since Felix Arustamyan, accused of assisting in the commission of Naghdalyan's murder, was denied the opportunity to testify further.

When the court resumed Thursday, the personal representative of the victim, Hovhannes Naghdalyan, made a statement to dismiss Rshtuni as his lawyer. He said: ?Ruben Rshtuni, who has been protecting my right during the trial, fell from his mission and is more inclined towards creating fake and artificial contradiction with the prosecuting side."

Rshtuni responded before leaving the court room: "The disagreements we have are tactical and are not within the accusation. These disputes will be resolved on the scientific level."

In brief testimony on September 2, Arustamyan, who is accused of assisting in the commission of Naghdalyan's murder, retracted a confession he had given during preliminary investigation. He told the court: "I cannot read and write in Armenian, so how could I give testimony like that?"

During yesterday's court session Arustamyan refused to answer questions. He insisted that only testimony that he had previously given in Karabakh was correct and that prosecutors should publish this evidence. Judge Aramyan said that no statements made in Karabakh were attached to the case.

The court heard statements made by Arustamyan during the preliminary investigation and saw a video recording of Arustamyan's interrogation on March 4 in Yerevan. This stated that he had become acquainted with Gegham Shahbazyan in Martuni and that in November 2002, when Gegham received an order to murder Naghdalyan, they came to Yerevan with John Harutyunyan to plan the crime. Gegham gave them two guns, a Makarov model and a TT, to choose from and the pair began following Naghdalyan, whom they had not known before.

Once, when he was alone, Arustamyan met Naghdalyan face to face but did not shoot. Then, on December 28, together with John Harutyunyan, they waited for Naghdalyan to leave his parents apartment. Arustamyam claimed he had a bad back and approached Gegham Shahbazyan, who was standing nearby, to say something. About 20 minutes later, it is claimed, Harutyunyan approached them and said: "I've killed him. I've shot him in the head."

Next day, when Gegham asked them to return the guns, John said that he had thrown away his "TT" while Arustamyan didn't wish to return his gun as he didn't get the $50,000 they were promised.

In this record Arustamyan also described how brutally he was treated in Karabakh after being detained for illegally carrying a gun, saying he did not understand why. During five days of imprisonment in Karabakh, Arustamyan was asked no questions concerning the murder of Naghdalyan.

During the first interrogation in Yerevan on March 4 the interrogator was asking Arustamyan questions about Sargsyan brothers:

Investigator: Who wanted Tigan to be murdered?
Arustamyan: I don't know.
Investigator: Who was interested in Tigran's murder?
Arustamyan: I don't know.
Inspector: During oral questioning you were saying different things.
Weren't
you saying that Sargsyans had done that? How many brothers has Vazgen
Sargsyan?
Arustamyan: I know he has two
Inspector: Who was the one who really paid the money?
Arustamyan: I don't know, Gegham said it was Liova, but I don't know him
personally.

The video contained nothing to show that Arustamyan linking Naghdalyan's murder with Armen Sargsyan. However, Armen Sargsyan's name is mentioned several times in other testimonies given on May 16, during preliminary investigation, and published by the prosecution.

Zaruhi Postanjyan, defending Arustamyan, says that her client rejects the allegation that Armen Sargsyan had any connection with Naghdalyan's murder and that he will testify to that effect during the next session.

Gegham Shahbazyan, who is accused of being the link between the person who ordered the murder and the perpetrators, started to give testimony on Thursday.

The session will resume Tuesday, September 23.


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