- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 13, 2004

Murder Mystery: Hotel staff allege police brutality in inquiry over a corpse that may not exist

Employees of a hotel owned by a prominent businessman have filed complaints of brutality, torture and false imprisonment against police investigating an alleged murder.

Staff have been repeatedly questioned about the disappearance of a man from the Harsnakar hotel complex in Sevan, which was built in 2001 by Ruben Hayrapetyan, the chairman of the Armenian Football Federation who is regarded as one of the country's business oligarchs.

They have denied any knowledge of his disappearance and alleged murder, saying there is no evidence the man even stayed at the resort.

They instead accuse a number of officers of beating and extorting false testimony from them. Tigran Janoyan, president of the International Union of Lawyers, has presented a complaint alleging “violation of human rights and illegal activities of officials” to the Prosecutor General, the Minister of Justice, the President's Committee on Human Rights and the Head of Police.

Natasha Voskanyan, who has a two-year old baby, says she was tortured and humiliated by police, and later kept in solitary confinement for 21 days at the Criminal-Executive Institution of Kotayk region. She shows her hands still bearing marks of cigarette burns and tells of being subjected to a strip-search by two female officers during her interrogation.

Voskanyan, 36, and several hotel staff allege that those responsible are the assistant of the prosecutor of Avan and Nor Nork communities Hovik Petrosyan, and the assistant of the chief of police department of the same communities, Ashot Karapetyan.

“Karapetyan hit my face a few times and then he started hitting the backs of my hands with all his strength. He was mainly hitting my fingers and when I couldn't bear the pain any more and hid my hands under my arms he moved a lighted cigarette closer to the back of my left hand and burnt it,” she says.

“While Karapetyan was beating me he was cursing, using shameful words and threatening. All that time, Hovik Petrosyan was peacefully sitting there and didn't stop the violence.”

Voskanyan works as an administrator at the Harsnakar complex. Her ordeal started on December 9, when she says Petrosyan took her to the prosecutor's office without presenting any official papers.

“That was when I heard for the first time that a murder had been committed and that I was supposed to know about it. I said I knew nothing,” she says.

Investigators insisted that Voskanyan had seen the body of a man in one of the cottages of the hotel complex. They detained her for ten hours until 1 a.m.

Natasha Voskanyan says she was mistreated by investigators.

“I was being questioned as a witness about some incident and a body that I knew nothing about. They were shouting and hurling rude expressions at me. I was swearing by my child and my sick mother that I knew nothing, but they didn't take any notice.”

The investigator showed Natasha an announcement that a resident of Avan, Robert Khachatryan, had left his apartment on June 19, 2003 and never returned. His family reported him missing and nothing further has been heard of him.

Voskanyan was ordered to attend the prosecutor's office again on December 11, where she says she was beaten again during questioning at the instigation of a colonel who insisted that she “almost certainly” knew something.

“Petrosyan came down on me saying, ‘write down that you know everything!' He was severely hitting my nape and pulling my hair…” she says.

Her interrogators continued to hound her after her release, threatening to jail her and to press charges against her brother and against the father of her child, Samvel Hovhannisyan. She and Hovhannisyan were detained.

Voskanyan recalls: “I, myself, heard how they were beating him in the neighboring room. I heard Petrosyan's voice. He was shouting, ‘tell me!' And Samvel was saying, ‘I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!' Then his voice disappeared… 15 minutes later Karapetyan and Petrosyan kissed and congratulated each other. They showed me statements written by him.

“When I read his testimony I realized that they can easily institute criminal proceedings. They told me, ‘remember, your brother is waiting for you downstairs'. So I wrote false testimonies, I thought they would hurt my family, my child, the father of my child.”

Based on a motion filed by Petrosyan, a judge of the court of first instance of Avan and Nor Nork communities has ordered Voskanyan to be arrested. The judge said he took account of Voskanyan's statements in reaching his decision, along with the view that she was “obstructing” the inquiry.

Voskanyan was sent to the Kotayk isolation ward for women, where she received a visit from the head of the Department of Prisons Samvel Hovhannisyan. He said that he was ready to listen if she had anything to say.

“When I told him that I knew nothing he got very angry and said, ‘you want to say that you gave testimonies because you were beaten?' I said ‘yes'. Then he got angry and said, ‘take away this liar.'”

Hovhannisyan confirmed that he had visited Voskanyan, but insisted: “I visit everyone. I check the conditions they are kept in.”

Until this point, Voskanyan had only been treated by police as a witness rather than a suspect. Under Armenian law, witnesses do not have the right to be represented by a lawyer.

“The body in charge of preliminary investigations often uses the status of a witness for the purpose of getting statements against people,” says lawyer Seda Safaryan, who was allowed to represent Voskanyan only after her arrest.

“These criminal proceedings have not been instituted based on the fact of a murder and there are no defendants. If there is no crime or someone who has committed that crime, how could Natasha conceal it?”

Proceedings are active even though no body has been found and the place where the alleged murder took place is unknown. Safaryan, who is seeking to have the charge thrown out, asks why police are so sure even that the man is dead.

Other staff at the Harsnakar hotel say they also were subjected to psychological and physical violence. Garik Badalyan and Edgar Khachatryan say they were taken to the Nor Nark police department on January 8 and beaten with rubber truncheons.

“When I said that I knew nothing Karapetyan began severely hitting me and when I couldn't stand the pain any more and fell to the ground he continued to hit me on the floor. My whole back turned blue. Petrosyan was present but didn't do anything to stop it,” says Badalyan.

Karo Gevorgyan says he was taken for questioning for three days in December by police in Nor Nork. He says: “I was forced to give testimonies saying that I saw the body of a man at the hotel complex and that I took it somewhere by car and buried it.”

Karen Yegoryan says he was held by police for five days, beaten, and forced to confess that he had committed the killing.

He said: “Karapetyan ordered me to tell that I had killed that man unintentionally, as if he died as a result of a beating or had died after he fell to the ground. He said that they would present the murder as an involuntary manslaughter.”

Four other men have also been arrested and sentenced to periods of administrative detention based on accusations they say were fabricated by police investigating the case.

The Prosecutor General Aram Tamazyan met with Safaryan last week to hear her concerns about the case. She said that he pledged a full inquiry into the matter.

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