More Murder Charges Loom Against Siradeghian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Vano Siradeghian–Armenia’s fugitive former interior minister–may soon face fresh charges of murder after one of his arrested subordinates testified against him last month. Armen Ter-Sahakian–the alleged leader of what prosecutors say was a "criminal gang," has told prosecutors that he arranged in the early 1990s murders of two senior officials at Siradeghian’s orders–his lawyer said on Wednesday. But the lawyer–Safar Khachatrian–added that he is sure the former police officer gave the testimony under "pressure" and "threats" to his life.

Ter-Sahakian and two dozen other men were arrested in January 1998 on charges of committing a series of murders and armed robbery. Ten of them went on trial last December–while the others–including Ter-Sahakian–will be tried separately.

Khachatrian told reporters that in early February he was shown Ter-Sahakian’s letter to Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian implicating the former interior minister. "Ter-Sahakian wrote that Siradeghian assigned him to kill the head of the Ashtarak district administration and Hambartsum Ghandilian (the late chief of the Armenian railway network)," the lawyer said.

He said the "confession" was first made on February 6–days after Siradeghian fled Armenia following other criminal accusations. Prosecutors allege that Siradeghian–who served as interior minister from 1992 to 1996–ordered the killings of two police officers five years ago after they had failed to assassinate a Russian businessman of Armenian origin. Despite his firm denial of the charges–the government-controlled parliament has lifted the ex-minister’s immunity from prosecution.

Ter-Sahakian’s lawyer claimed that the law-enforcement officials extracted false evidence from his client to substantiate their case against Siradeghian. He said the "frightened" Ter-Sahakian told him during their last meeting that prosecutors had "warned him that if he doesn’t testify [against Siradeghian] he will be taken to a place where his life will be in danger." Khachatrian said he will "raise this issue" during the upcoming trial.

Prosecutor Hovsepian said earlier there is sufficient evidence to claim that Ter-Sahakian’s "gang" was set up by Siradeghian. Ter-Sahakian worked in the interior ministry when it was headed by the latter. Siradeghian is the chairman of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement and a close ally of the former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Interior Minister Serge Sargssian announced at a press conference Wednesday that there are numerous developmen’s in the investigation of the murder Interior Minister Ardzroun Markarian. Sargssian could not however reveal any details.

Sargssian confirmed reports that investigations have been conducted at the home of Markarian.


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