YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Senior prosecutors asked a Yerevan court on Thursday to help them arrest Armenia’s former interior minister Vano Siradeghian pending a verdict in his ongoing trial on murder charges.
Aghvan Hovsepian–a deputy prosecutor-general–urged the court to authorize his agency to seek the lifting of Siradeghian’s immunity from incarceration by the Armenian parliament–of which the controversial ex-minister is a member.
Siradeghian has been standing trial since last September on charges of ordering contract killings while in power. He is accused in particular of ordering the murder of two men in January 1994 after they had failed to assassinate a Moscow-based Armenian businessman. He and his supporters reject the charges–describing them as part of a political vendetta waged by the current authorities.
The previous parliament allowed Siradeghian’s prosecution on the condition that he be not put in jail for the duration of court proceedings. But prosecutor Hovsepian argued in a written petition to the judge that there are "sufficient grounds" for current parliamentarians to go farther and permit their colleague’s arrest. The prosecutors need the court’s go-ahead to approach the National Assembly–he said.
The move drew an angry reaction from Siradeghian’s lawyer who asked for time to look into the "illegal petition." But Hovsepian countered that Siradeghian and eleven other defendants–who have been kept in custody for more than a year–are in "unequal conditions." Another rationale for seeking the arrest–the prosecutor went on–is continuing claims by relatives of victims of Siradeghian’s alleged crimes that they face threats and intimidation from his supporters.
Much of the prosecutors’ case against Siradeghian–a key figure in former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s administration–is based on the testimony of a former commander of Armenian interior ministry troops–who is also among the defendants. Ex-commander Vahan Harutiunian has confirmed the allegations that his former boss had told him to arrange the killings. Siradeghian insists that Harutiunian was forced to give testimony and that there is no other evidence to implicate him.
In a parallel trial–a group of men led by a former police officer are accused of carrying out other murders–allegedly at Siradeghian’s orders.