Murder Suspect Retracts Testimony against Sarkisian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The man who confessed to killing the chief of Armenia’s state television radio Tigran Naghdalian–on Tuesday dealt a blow to prosecutors’ case against Aram Sarkisian accused of organizing the crime.

John Harutiunian–a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh who allegedly fired a single fatal shot at Naghdalian last December–retracted a pre-trial testimony in which he said it was made clear to him beforehand that he was hired by the Sarkisian brothers. Harutiunian told a Yerevan court that he did not write or even read the testimony and simply signed it on the investigators’ orders. He did not provide further explanations–refusing to answer questions from the judge and trial attorneys.

Similar claims were made in the court by another alleged hitman Felix Arustamian. He too said that his pre-trial testimony was fabricated by the prosecutors.

The prosecution holds businessman Armen Sarkisian responsible for Naghdalian’s death–maintaining that he paid one of his distant relatives–Hovannes Harutiunian–$75,000 to arrange the contract killing. The charges are vehemently denied by Sarkisian.

Armen Sarkisian’s lawyer Robert Grigorian–demanded that the prosecutors show the video of the suspect’s earlier interrogation. The presiding judge Saro Amirian–granted the request.

The prosecutors say that Armen Sarkisian sought to kill Naghdalian because he believed that the latter was involved in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament in which his second brother–Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian was killed

The court also granted Grigorian’s petition to remove another defendant–accused murderer Gegham Shahbazian from the courtroom during the testimony. The defense feared that Shahbazian’s presence would hinder Haroutiunian’s testimony. In addition to Shahbazian–Sarkisian was also removed from the courtroom in accordance with an earlier court decision. Sarkisian–when leaving the hall–said–"I know neither Gegham Shahbazian nor John Haroutiunian."

Another of Sarkisian’s defense representatives Hovhannes Arsenian petitioned the court to have his client medically examined because he said that Sarkisian is ill. The judge then demanded Sarkisian’s medical records and X-rays.

The next sitting of the court is scheduled for September 2.

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