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By Hrach Melkumian

The brother of opposition leader Aram Sarkisian is due to go on a long-awaited trial next Tuesday on charges of organizing the December murder of the head of Armenia’s state television, Tigran Naghdalian.

Businessman Armen Sarkisian will maintain that he had no part in the first-ever assassination of a journalist in post-Soviet Armenia, his defense attorney, Hovannes Arsenian, told RFE/RL on Friday. “My client has nothing to do with the preparation and execution of Tigran Naghdalian’s murder,” he said.

Also facing trial will be 12 other defendants, including a man from Nagorno-Karabakh who the prosecution says fired a fatal shot at Naghdalian as he left his parents’ home in the center of Yerevan. The man, identified as John Harutiunian, is said to have admitted to the charge during the pre-trial investigation.

The prosecutors claim that the killing was arranged by Hovannes Harutiunian, a distant relative of the Sarkisian family who was allegedly paid $75,000 by the businessman. They say he too admitted his guilt.

Sarkisian, however, insists that he was “blackmailed” by Harutiunian after the crime and paid the money because he feared for his life. His lawyers say the investigators extracted the confessions from the other suspects by torture. According to Arsenian, the inquiry was also tainted with other violations of the due process of law.

Aram Sarkisian and other opposition leaders have repeatedly dismissed the charges as politically motivated, accusing President Robert Kocharian of using the high-profile case to neutralize his political opponents. They stress the fact that the authorities announced first arrests in the case on March 5, just hours after the end of voting in the second round of the presidential elections marred by fraud.

The authorities, for their part, say that it was a pure coincidence.

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