YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The key defendant in the trial of six men accused of plotting to assassinate Gagik Khachatrian, the controversial head of Armenia’s State Revenue Committee (SRC), on Wednesday insisted on his innocence and accused investigators of foul play.
Gagik Matevosian, the alleged ringleader in the case, claimed that they drugged him and bullied his relatives in order to force him to incriminate himself during the pre-trial investigation.
Matevosian and the other defendants were among nine persons arrested a year ago in the official probe of the May 2009 explosion near Khachatrian’s Yerevan apartment. The blast was reportedly caused by a homemade explosive device planted in a construction site adjacent to the apartment block. Nobody was hurt by it.
Law-enforcement authorities identified Robert Yeritsian, former head of an anti-smuggling department at the Armenian customs service, as the main mastermind of what they call a botched attempt on Khachatrian’s life. Yeritsian fled Armenia at the time and remains on the run. He has flatly denied the accusations through his father Albert, a wealthy businessman who governed Yerevan’s northern Arabkir district until June 2009.
Robert Yeritsian was fired in April 2008 shortly after being harshly criticized by President Serzh Sarkisian in front of television cameras. The customs service was headed by Khachatrian at the time. The latter suggested in his pre-trial testimony that Yeritsian helm him responsible for the embarrassing criticism.
As the six men went on trial in July last year, prosecutors stood by the investigators’ claims that Yeritsian hired, through a middleman, a criminal group and paid it $150,000 to kill Khachatrian. They said Matevosian, a former deputy commander of a special operations squad of Armenian interior troops, set up the gang in 2006.
“Everything that’s written [in the indictment] is a fairy tale,” Matevosian told a Yerevan court. “I have no connection with this matter. I didn’t plot any killings.”
The arrested suspect, who is also known as “Muscle Gago,” said investigators injected him with drugs and intimidated members of his family. “Of course, there were threats,” he said. “They caught and arrested my brother, they went after my family. My family now lives in one place and my mother and brother in another.”
Matevosian dismissed the fact that other defendants testified against him. “Looking them in the eyes, I say they lied,” he said.
“I don’t know why,” he added, when pressed by the presiding judge, Gagik Avetisian. “One slap, one beating can make people do that.”
Matevosian and the other defendants face a long list of charges, including murder attempt, illegal arms possession and “banditism.” They also stand accused of plotting to assassinate President Sarkisian and former President Robert Kocharian. It remains unclear, though, who was interested in their assassinations, according to the prosecutors.
Khachatrian, the tax and customs chief, has refused to attend and give evidence at the trial despite repeated demands by Matevosian’s lawyers.