Wednesday, 26 September

Shahen Hovsepyan's Murder Still Unsolved

On September 6, Shahen Hovasapyan, who headed the State Tax Service's Department of Investigation, was murdered in his car by a remote-controlled explosive device. Brothers Armen and Gurgen Virabyan are currently the only suspects in the crime. Armen Virabyan, 39, worked under Shahen Hovasapyan as head of Department 7 at the tax service. Gurgen Virabyan, 37, is the owner of the business Semur & Co. According to the prosecution, the brothers decided to kill Hovasepyan because he was planning to fire Armen Virabyan. To that end, the tax department employee spent several months earning the trust of Hovasapyan's driver Andranik Charchyan and on September 6 placed the explosive device under Charchyan's car.

Charchyan and Armen Virabyan met face-to-face just as the 72-hour time limit for filing charges was about to expire. When asked by investigators who he thought was responsible for the crime, Charchyan said he was sure that Armen Virabyan was either the killer himself or had gotten someone else to carry out his orders. Thus far, this is the only evidence to support the charges against the Virabyan brothers. The Virabyans' lawyer, Hovik Arsenyan, says there have been no serious interviews or investigations of his clients since September 16 and it is not clear why they are being kept in custody.

Armen and Gurgen Virabyan

Investigators may have squandered opportunities during the crucial period of time immediately following the murder by focusing on this one scenario to the exclusion of all others.

Today, they are working to find whatever incriminating information they can by looking into the Virabyans' business activities. But it is likely that whatever charges they file will have little to do with Shahen Hovasapyan's murder.

It is hard to understand why Gurgen Virabyan, who has a second-degree disability, is still in custody. His health has deteriorated, and is increasingly threatened by each day he spends in detention.

“The case is a dead end,” said lawyer Hovik Arsenyan. ““One week after I took the case I understood that the investigation could not go forward.

“They did everything they could in their investigation of the Virabyan brothers. After all of the searches, examinations, interrogations, testimony checks, and other investigative activity I understood that the investigation had verified Armen and Gurgen Virabyan's alibis and that they had no connection to the crime.

“But, unfortunately, for reasons that have no explanation within the context of existing law, they violated these citizens' constitutional rights and freedoms, because the charges were completely unjustified, both in terms of motives and evidence, “ said the lawyer.

Investigators claim that revenge was the motive behind the killing, once Armen Virabyan learned he was to be fired. But Virabyan was regarded as loyal to Shahen Hovasapyan, and the two men had worked side-by-side on a number of operations.

Furthermore, it has been proved that on the day of the murder, the Virabyan brothers were in at Semur & Co in Yeghvard.” Of the charge that they carried out the murder their lawyer says, “It's completely unfounded. They weren't there physically, and couldn't press the button.“

Several media outlets citing sources in the prosecutor's office, mentioned that weapons and arms supplies had been found in Virabyan's Yeghvard house. In reality, the investigators found Armen Virabyan's Colt handgun and bullets, which, as became clear later, Virabyan had never used. The two remote controls that were found in the villa were for a child motorcycle and a car television.

“I don't blame the preliminary investigation, because the investigative work was very weak and un-professional, not based on anything but suspicion. Of course, whenever there is a serious crime like this there is going to be suspicion, but they have to have reasons for the suspicion, and serious reasons to make any charges. Instead, at the time of the arrest and within 72 hours, the former head of the investigation tried to please the officials from criminal investigation by using their information and an attempt was made during the preliminary to create the basis for the charges. This was the reason that the interrogator asked Armen Virabyan whether ‘your close relations with the driver during the last ten or fifteen days served the goal of placing the explosive device.' This was clear harassment. And the next day the same view was repeated by the driver. They wanted to create the basis for charges and establish the necessity of detention. I think that the completely biased direction of the investigation, naturally, brought the case to the dead end, “ insisted Hovik Arsenyan.

A recent report by investigators' reads, “This information allows us to conclude that the Virabyan family has broken the law while operating its companies, by evading tax payments and other fees.” Only the investigators can say what these fees have to do with Shahen Hovasapyan's murder. They have forgotten that they were supposed to look into the murder of a government official and not the business activities of the Virabyan brothers.

The head of the investigation has been replaced, most likely because of the way the investigation was conducted. The new head is Hektor Mardaryan. Lawyers for the defendants believe that the innocence of their clients should no longer be in doubt.

But on November 13, the Court of First Instance of Kentron and Nork-Marash again examined and granted the prosecution's request to increase the length of the Virabyans' confinement. Their lawyer explains, “There is real pressure on the court, and the court has given in to it.“

Photo captions: Shanen Hovasapyan and Shahen Meghryan

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