- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 9 , 2004 

The Naghdalyan Case: Appeals court hears further testimony

Armen Sargsyan (center) heard a verdict in November that he hopes will be overturned..

Over the past month, an appeals court has heard new testimony in the murder case of the Chairman of Public TV of Armenia Tigran Naghdalyan.

In November the Court of First Instance found Armen Sargsyan (younger brother of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and of oppositional leader Aram Sargsyan) guilty of ordering the murder of the popular journalist. Naghdalyan was shot to death December 28, 2002. Armen Sargsyan was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

Sargsyan was one of 13 defendants found guilty of various crimes related to the murder. Five, including Sargsyan, have appealed their verdicts.

Armenia's political opposition widely believes that accusing Sargsyan of the murder of the journalist is conditioned by political motives. Sargsyan's arrest was announced on the night preceding last March's runoff election won by President Robert Kocharyan over Stepan Demirchyan.

Sargsyan attorney Robert Grigoryan has appealed his client's verdict, citing the lower court's refusal to hear testimony of medical experts who, Grigoryan claims, would contradict evidence heard during the trial. Grigoryan's appeal asks the Court to overturn the verdict.

Four other defendants are asking the Court of Appeals to reduce sentences.

In appeal testimony, John Harutyunyan, who confessed to killing Naghdalyan, said that he was solicited to commit the murder-for-hire in November, 2002. Prosecutors say that Armen Sargsyan ordered the murder December 15, 2002.

Prosecutors called for Harutyunyan's testimony - given during preliminary investigations - to be read in the appeal hearings. Harutyunyan replied: "I don't want to listen to these testimonies. I refused them, as I didn't write them."

Co-conspirator Felix Arustamyan, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison by the lower court, has given new testimony concerning two vehicles he observed following Naghdalyan.

Arustamyan says he thought the cars carried Naghdalyan's bodyguards. But when the cars did not enter Naghdalyan's yard, Arustamyan said he came to believe that parties were spying on Naghdalyan. He says he did not mention the Niva and Volga during earlier testimony because he did not get a look at the faces in the cars.

During preliminary investigation Naghdalyan's widow, Diana Naghdalyan, gave similar testimony, mentioning that she and her husband had been followed for some time. She described a man whom she saw several times at their yard entrance. She also described the cars she believed were trailing her husband's movements. Investigators did not pursue her leads.

Gegham Shahbazyan, who was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment for conspiracy, stated in the Court of Appeal that Armen Sargsyan didn't order the murder.

In reply to numerous questions of judges and prosecutors Shahbazyan insisted: "I recalled everything and told all the truth here. I told about everything that had happened."

Shahbazyan also reported words of Sargsyan's relative Hovhannes "Aper" Harutyunyan to the court (Harutyunyan was accused of helping hire Naghdalyan's killer).

According to Shahbazyan, Hovhannes Harutyunyan also denied any involvement by Sargsyan.

"Never tell Armen's name," Hovhannes Harutyunyan allegedly said. "I am the one. I avenged the murder of my cousin." (Harutyunyan is a relative of Vazgen Sargsyan.)

Naghdalyan's sister, Karineh Naghdalyan, says Shahbazyan is afraid. "He is talking in favor of the person who sits next to him and who he is afraid of," she said.

Naghdalyan's family is disappointed by the sentences handed down by the first court. They say the sentences were too soft.

On December 29 Armen Sargsyan again stated that he didn't order the murder of Naghdalyan. He did, however, admit to knowing who killed Naghdalyan, but said he did not come forward with the information because he did not trust law enforcement authorities.

Sargsyan sent letters to several political parties, non-governmental organizations and parliamentary groups urging them to pay attention to the new hearings.

"I believe that the presence of your representatives at court sessions will contribute to getting objective, proper and complete information and forming opinion on the current state of justice," Sargsyan wrote in the letter.


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Amber Square?

All dressed up for the holidays, Republic Square has never looked so rosey (well not since it was "Lenin Square" anyway). In addition to its giant holiday tree, this year all government buildings were lit, casting a soft glow in the moist Yerevan nights.





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