On September 6, 2006 Shahen Hovasapyan, who headed the State Tax Service's Department of Investigation, was murdered in his car by a remote-controlled explosive device.
Seven days later brothers Armen and Gurgen Virabyan were arrested and on September 16 they were charged with murder. The only evidence linking the brothers to the murder was the testimony of Hovasapyan's driver Andranik Charchyan.
Although officers from the National Security Service (NSS), the Prosecutor General's Office and the Police were all involved in the investigation, it was the NSS that conducted the main inquiry. They were also responsible for the solution of the crime, though it was investigator Bagrat Petrosyan who persuaded Andranik Charchyan to testify against Armen Virabyan.
The investigative team has not interrogated Charchyan a second time. According to a source close to Charchyan, he intends to withdraw his testimony, explaining that he was subjected to great psychological pressure. “I was told to say that he was the murderer and that they needed to take him into custody to ascertain the facts,” Charchyan told a friend.
It appears that the head of the investigation and the NSS officers believed that Charchyan's testimony would make it easier to fabricate the case. But they encountered problems. According to the employees of Gurgen Virabyan's Semur & Co. who were interviewed during the preliminary investigation, Bagrat Petrosyan pressed them to testify that they didn't see the brothers at Semur & Co in Yeghvard on the day of the murder. But the employees didn't give in and give false testimony. The investigator employed various illegal methods, but we won't go into detail here because the investigation is not over yet and we have no doubt that whatever we publish will be used in further interrogations of those people. Investigator Bagrat Petrosyan tried to persuade the Virabyans' relatives to testify against Armen Virabyan. In jail the investigator openly told Gurgen Virabyan, who has a second-degree disability, “Say that you suspect your brother of the murder and I will release you from custody.” Armen and Gurgen Virabyan were held in neighboring cells and Gurgen clearly heard his brother being beaten and told to confess to the crime.
The case has been fabricated and the investigators don't know how to get out of the situation. In any case, the replacement of the head of the investigative team (now headed by Hektor Sardaryan) made it clear that the prosecutor's office is looking for a way out. Naturally, the prosecutor's office bears the main responsibility. Although the investigative group included officers from three agencies the case is under the jurisdiction of the prosecutor's office. Some law enforcement officers told us that everything now fell on Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan – both the unsolved murder and the failed attempt to present the fabricated case as a fact.
At first glance it seems that the situation is not at a deadlock; investigators should apologize to the Virabyan brothers and their family for causing moral and material damage and should conduct internal inquiry into Bagrat Petrosyan's actions connected with this and other cases.
Many law enforcement officers feel embarrassed at having to apologize for a misguided investigation.
On December 6, 2006 Gurgen Virabyan was released from custody. His brother Armen Virabyan is still under arrest.
To recap, ten days after Shahen Hovasapyan's murder the prosecutor's office announced that the case was solved and the Virabyan brothers were charged with murder in accordance with Article 104 of the Criminal Code of Armenia.
Gurgen Virabyan's release from custody already attests that the case was fabricated and that the prosecutor's office is looking for a way out.
But the prosecutor's office doesn't have the nerve to set Armen Virabyan free. As one investigator told us, “The prosecutor's office has never done anything like that. How can they do that now? They would actually gain prestige by doing so, but there are no people with that mentality here.”
On December 7, spokesman for the prosecutor's office Sona Truzyan explained that Gurgen Virabyan was released from custody because his health had deteriorated, suggesting that Gurgen Virabyan is still considered one of the accused.
In all probability the investigators will find some wrongdoings the business activities of Semur & Co and Gurgen Virabyan will be called to account.
“I didn't know Shahen Hovasapyan. I know that my brother was one of his trusted men and charging us with this crime is nonsense. The accusations against us are groundless and my brother should be set free immediately,” Gurgen Virabyan told us.
Why did the investigators make Virabyans their target? Gurgen Virabyan has some ideas but doesn't want to talk about them yet.
The State Tax Service's Department of Investigation had an Operations Division headed by Armen Virabyan. Both Hovasapyan and Virabyan had enemies within the system. As a result of their internal investigations a head of a division and several other officers were dismissed. Their actions had serious consequences. It is possible that one of the officers who were dismissed could have misled the investigators.
On January 13, the detention period for Armen Virabyan will expire. What are the investigators going to do this time? Will they go to court to request to increase the length of the Virabyans' confinement or will they set him free and acknowledge their mistake?