YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The trial on criminal charges of Armenia’s former powerful minister of interior–Vano Siradeghian–will get underway on September 9–the judge handling the case said on Friday.
Samvel Tovmasian–a judge from Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district court–told RFE/RL that he has already informed the litigants about the date of what may become post-Soviet Armenia’s most high-profile trial.
Siradeghian–who was one of former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s closest associates–has been charged with ordering contract killings–some of which state prosecutors say were committed by a death squad he set up while in power. Siradeghian and his former ruling Armenian National Movement have dismissed the charges as part of a political vendetta waged against them by the current authorities.
But Tovmasian denied that the case is politically motivated. "I received a criminal case. Therefore–I cannot speak of any other issues," he said. At least 229 persons are due to be questioned during the lengthy court proceedings–Tovmasian said. The prosecution considers 24 of them to be "victims" of the alleged crimes. There will be 11 defendants apart from Siradeghian–with a former interior troops commander most important of them. The tentative list of witnesses does not include ex-president Ter-Petrosyan–the judge said.
The proceedings will take place parallel to an ongoing trial of nine men accused of executing Siradeghian’s death orders and racketeering. They are accused of murdering a local government chief in September 1992 and a railway network director in May 1993. Only one of them has pleaded guilty to all the charges. Some of the others have admitted participating in some of the crimes but stopped short of saying that they had acted at Siradeghian’s orders.
The previous Armenian parliament last February stripped Siradeghian of his immunity from prosecution after the country’s chief prosecutor had accused him of ordering murders of two police officers while in power. The prosecutors have said the ex-minister’s election to the current parliament in May did not restore his immunity.