On July 26, 2002 the Court of Appeal for Criminal and Military Cases (presiding judge A. Poghossian) sentenced Sargis Patatian to 15 years in prison. The court found that on June 23, 2002, at# 12/1 Michurin StreetinYerevan(the home of Norair Ghazarian, the second man accused in the case) Sargis Patatian had argued with his partner Mushegh Minasian-Birg, blaming him for substantial losses resulting from the purchase and sale of paintings. The drunken Patatian beat Minasian-Birg and fired a shot from an automatic gun at the wall of the balcony. Then, along with the accused Hovhannes Hovhannisian, who was present during the argument, and Hunan Sahakian, a witness in the case, he took Minassian-Birg to the courtyard of#1 Muratsan Streetand at about 2 a.m. shot and killed him with an automatic weapon. Minasian-Birg's body has not been discovered up to now. "The investigation has proved neither the fact of the murder nor Sargis Patatian's connection to the alleged murder", says Zaruhi Danielian, Patatian's lawyer.
The investigation files contain no answer to the question, "Was a murder committed?" There is at least one document, left out of the criminal proceedings, proving that Minasian-Birg is alive and has leftArmeniasince the alleged murder. The Court did not take this document into consideration. The other fact we have is that after the alleged murder Minasian-Birg was seen inFrankfurt,Germany. According to our information, he has had several passports and has been freely traveling in various European countries. We were told about Mushegh's having different passports by an acquaintance of his. In any case, the fact that Mushegh Minasian-Birg has had two passports - Armenian and Yugoslavian - is undeniable.
Who is Mushegh Minasian-Birg?
The tape-recording of a confrontation between Militsa Birg (Mushegh's wife) and Karo Patatian (Sargis Patatian's father) that was turned over to prosecution investigator Z. Hovhannisian to be included in the evidence has disappeared from the investigation files. During the confrontation, Militsa Birg stated that Mushegh had appropriated her property back inYugoslaviaand later on come with her toArmenia; then Mushegh left her and went toFrankfurtwhere he had a friend with whom he left 70 valuable paintings. Defense lawyers appealed to the court many times to produce the tape but the court turned down the requests with as many motivations. Mushegh Minassian was born inYerevanin 1954. He was married and had one child. In 1988 he was divorced. Until 1991 he worked at the State ArtGalleryinYerevan, first as a frame maker, and later on as a restorer. At the same time he was painting miniatures. In 1991 he left forYugoslaviawith a woman named Susanna, without paying off his many debts.
What was Mushegh Minassian doing inYugoslavia? According to the testimony of Militsa Birg, whom Mushegh met in 1994, he was painting miniatures and selling them. His occupation before that is unknown. All that is known is that during that period of time he visitedGermanyandHollandseveral times. There is one noteworthy episode. Mushegh's friend of 15 years, Gagik Avetissian, stated in his testimony: "Mushegh told me, Sargis and other our friends that years ago he was a sniper inYugoslaviaand that he had earned $ 150,000 doing that. So as not to pay the money they wanted to liquidate him over there and he escaped toArmenia. Mushegh also told us that these people could find him and take care of him."
Militsa Birg, Serbian by nationality, met Mushegh in 1994 inBelgrade. A year later they were married. She has a daughter from previous marriage. Militsa was from a wealthy family; she had a house inBelgrade. Her father was a high-level official. At Mushegh's advice they sold theBelgradehouse and bought a house on the sea inMontenegro. In 1995 Mushegh, Militsa and her daughter came toYerevan. Mushegh was trading in paintings. During their stay inYerevan, Mushegh Minassian twice committed thefts. The first time he stole things from the house they were renting; the second time he stole his partner Sargis Patatian's daughter's gold earrings. When these facts came to light, charges were made against him and a search for him begun.
"They fabricated this case to take away my factory", says "Commission Shop Karo"
Who is Sargis Patatian? He is the son of Karo Patatian - notorious since Soviet times under the nickname "Commission Shop Karo". "They fabricated this case to take away my factory, - says Karo Patatian. "In December 1998 I decided to sell my factory and move toArgentina. I sold it in February and was supposed to come and get the money. When I came to get the money the buyer said that he had had a misfortune and he couldn't give me the money, and he didn't want to buy it anymore. I didn't want to operate the factory myself and wished to sell it anyway. My daughter's husband, Armen Mkrtchian, said 'I will pay the money and will operate it'. He had been working at the sheetrock factory as warehouse superintendent. And I said: "Take it". We formalized the deal and I left. Armen was supposed to pay me in October. In October I came toYerevanwith my wife. My son-in-law said that he couldn't pay me at that time and that he would pay in December. I said that it was OK and he could pay in December. On December 18, my daughter came home severely beaten up.
"The next day I was called in to see the chief of the district police department. I thought that Yazchian, chief of the Erebuni district police department, who was close to my son-in-law, wanted to reconcile us. At three o'clock I was taken to the deputy chief for criminal cases. And all of a sudden they began asking questions about Mushegh. They asked - what can you say about the circumstances that have just come to light? I asked - what circumstances? He said - if you are not saying anything, then don't be offended. I understood that the cause of this whole story was the factory. I appealed to the court. That was on June 17, 2000. They didn't set a date for the hearing of the case, and postponed the hearing. I wanted them to declare the sales agreement invalid". For two months Karo Patatian, who is disabled was kept under arrest. "A few days before I was set free I was taken to the investigating officer, Aris Yeremian. Another investigator, Zorik Hovhannissian, and my lawyer were also present. The office door was left wide open. Aris said, " I found Mushegh's body." I said, " You found it-good for you, brother. I don't know anything about it; he has never been in my house. And suddenly I saw Hovhannes Hovannissian, severely beaten, being led down the corridor. I was set free. That Hunan Sahakian came to my house, I said, "What kind of tales have you been telling, boy? He said, 'I came to apologize, I gave false evidence. They beat the hell out of me and told me what to say.' They beat him, wanted to make him work for them. He refused. And after the beatings they forced him to give testimony, and he did".
During the investigation into the factory case it was proven that Karo Patatian's signature had been forged. Armen Mkrtchian, Karo Patatian's son-in-law had done it. The deed of ownership and the measurements of the factory property had also been forged.
What, in fact, did the court find out?
"The verdict of the Court of Appeal is unfounded. It doesn't follow from the evidence gathered in the course of both the preliminary investigation and the examinations by the court of first instance and the Court of Appeal. A number of infringements of the criminal code took place", says lawyer Zaruhi Danielian. The fact of the murder of Minassian-Birg has not been proved in the court examination. Sargis Patatian's father Karo Patatian has a document from the Customs department stating that the alleged murder victim leftArmenia. The court refuses to consider this document. This is strange but true. None of the witnesses mentioned in the indictment appeared before the court; none testified. The court based its verdict upon the testimony of Hunan Sahakian and Serob Ghazarian given during the preliminary investigation.Hunan's mother, Aghun Sahakian, and his wife, Karine Vardanian, testified thatHunanwas subjected to beatings and threats by the officers of the Erebuni district police department. Hunan Sahakian refused to appear before the court. In fact, he refused to appear before the court because he had been threatened.
We have in our possession a tape recording in which he talks about how he was forced to give evidence. The names of the investigators who threatened him are also recorded on the tape. However, the court disregarded these facts as well. The court brought an action against Sahakian, who was a witness in the case, but he was set free in a general amnesty. He was one of the important witnesses. The court did not take appropriate actions to bring important witnesses to court. They confined themselves to making decisions to bring them to court and to filing these decisions. This was the court's "mission".
"Evidence" and coercion on the same scale
There are a number of "pieces of evidence" that were used in court to prove Sargis Patatian's crime. Here are some of them. There are two other defendants in the case - Norair Ghazarian and Hovhannes Hovhannisian. The court heard their testimony given in the beginning of the preliminary investigation in the Erebuni district police department. However, they denied their testimony as soon as they were transferred to jail. Here they both stated that their testimony against Sarkis Patatian was false. Norair Ghazarian was illegally kept at the Erebuni police department for 75 days, and Hovhannes Hovhannisian for 14 days. They were subjected to physical and psychological pressure. But, as always, the court in this case too considered the testimony given in the police department to be reliable. No testimony by the accused given in the courts was taken into account. "The testimonies against Sargis Patatian alleging that he killed Mushegh are lies", said Norair Ghazarian several times while answering the questions of prosecutor Lavrent Davtian in the Court of Appeal.
Ghazarian also told the court that during his stay in the police station he saw his wife and son in the corridors. They brought his son to his cell with his hands tied up and threatened him. "They tied my feet to the chair and struck my bare feet. They kicked me in the ribs and broke them; they wouldn't give me any food, only water. There was no chance and no way to sleep; there always was somebody around. Once when I asked to call Emergency they offered me vodka". Ghazarian explained the fact that in previous testimony he said that he killed Mushegh this way: "I thought it was better to say I did it, rather than to put the blame on Sargis for it". After that he was forced to abandon the version that he committed the murder and to lay the blame on Sargis. Ghazarian does not know the names of those who beat him but if he sees them he will recognize them. During one court session Ghazarian could recall the name of one officer tormenting him at the Erebuni police department - Karapetian.
He could not recollect how many days he was illegally detained at the police department. After being illegally detained at the Erebuni police department for 75 days Norair Ghazarian was transferred to the Nubarashen jail. A June 3, 2002 memorandum signed by lieutenant colonel Kh. Sargisian, head of the Nubarashen Penitentiary and G, Khachatrian, head of the medical unit states: "The examination of N. Ghazarian revealed the following bodily injuries: bluish green widespread bruises in the area of left and right arms and shoulder-blades, numerous abrasions of both shins". This is a unique case in which a penitentiary presents to the court a document stating that a detainee has bodily injuries. The other defendant in the case, Hovhannes Hovhannissian told both the court of first instance and the Court of Appeal how he had given testimony at the Erebuni police department.
The investigator for the prosecutor's office ofYerevan, Aristakes Yeremian, told Hovhannes Hovhannissian that his father had been kept at the Erebuni police department for a week in order to find out his whereabouts. "I didn't sleep or rest at the police department for 14 days, they starved me, beat me. I would rest for only one or two hours lying on the floor of different officers' rooms", Hovhannissian told the court. And when Hovannes Hovhanissian was forced by the investigators to draw the diagrams showing the so-called scene of the crime and the location of the alleged murder victim Mushegh Minassian's body, he was transferred to the Nubarashen jail. Here, during a confrontation with Sarkis Patatian in the presence of lawyer Sos Grigorian, he repudiated his prior testimony.
The investigators lost their temper. On October 31, 2000, Aris Yeremian presented a false document to get into the jail with deputy chief of the division of criminal investigations of the Erebuni police department Yuri Davtian, operative officer A. Poghosian, and Hovhannes's lawyer H. Baghdasarian. Yeremian presented Hovhannes with a sealed and signed document stating that he was being charged with the rape of a minor (Article 99 of the Criminal Code), promised to repeat the tortures he went through in the Erebuni police department, and forced him to give new testimony. Hovhannissian repudiated his statement made during the confrontation with Sarkis Patatian. Otherwise, he was told, he would be taken back to the police department. After all of that, Hovhanissian's lawyer H. Baghdasarian disappeared after the second hearing in the court of first instance.
Hovhannes Hovhannissian pleaded not guilty in court but he said he was prepared to face punishment for false testimony. The court, at least in this case, should have considered the testimonies of Ghazarian and Hovhannissian reliable and disregard their previous statements, for as has been proven, materials obtained through violence, threats, deception, humiliation and other substantial violations of investigatory procedure cannot be considered evidence in accordance with the law.
The verdict is based on other "evidence" which allegedly proves the fact of the killing of Mushegh Minasian-Birg. Even though according to the court examination and a number of tests, the remains of the body "discovered" at the Nubarashen dump belong to a woman or to a minor, the court accepted as proof of Sarkis Patatian's guilt the unspecified blood stains found on the spot on two pieces of velour. The verdict also cites as evidence the results of the examination of blood found in the trunk of a "Jeep-Toyota" that used to belong to Patatian's family. The experts did not determine the blood type or whether it belonged to a human or to an animal. Patatian sold the car in 1999, and the examination was carried out a year after the time the car had another owner. The Court of Appeal used these results as proof of the crime.
All the evidence in this verdict is like this - "unreal, imperceptible, unfounded". Why does the court conduct an investigation for months if it is not going to reveal anything, why do the courts perform the Sisyphean toil if the verdicts are going to be based on the prosecution's indictment?
"The goal of Aris Yeremian and my son-in-law is to take my factory, and to own it jointly. This is the whole story. Aram Tamazian (the prosecutor general) does not know those things; Aris Yeremian deceives him". Neither the preliminary investigation, nor the examinations by the court of first instance or the Court of Appeal have proved the fact of the murder of Mushegh Minasian-Birg. According to Article 108 of the Criminal Code of Armenia, the only basis for recognizing a person as dead is the conclusion of a forensic expert. There is no such document in this case.