[June 16, 2008]
The latest news emanating from the on-going Najarian court case in Armenia is that Grigor Igityan has been charged with using fraud to swindle George and Carolann Najarian, American-Armenian benefactors, out of their property. For the past three years, the time that the trial has been dragging on, the court had constantly refused to bring such charges against the defendant in the case. The Najarians had been waging an uphill battle with the courts during the entire period.
Despite the fact that the court has finally leveled official charges, the entire matter is still caught in legal merry-go-round of sorts. Judge Zhora Vardanyan has been presiding over the trial in the Yerevan Kentron and Nork-Marash Court of First Instance since March 2007.
At the trial session that took place on May 24, 2007, the Najarians’ legal counsel, Hrayr Ghoukasyan, asked the court to “immediately take measures for preventing the irresponsible and destructive actions of the defense, as well as for securing the normal process and appropriate resolution of the criminal case's investigation.”
At the time Mr. Ghoukasyan stated that “…only two witnesses have so far been interrogated during the trial, which has lasted for about 2.5 month. This evidently indicates the unhidden intention of the defendant and his attorney to artificially delay the trial and turn it into “an eternal one.” (See: The Trial is Coming).
More than a year has since passed. In essence the major portion of the trial proceedings has been completed and the time has now come for closing statements and speeches, after which the judge will hand down his decision. However, since May 6th of this year, the court sessions have been consecutively postponed.
“Kromvel Grigoryan, the defense attorney for the accused, has systematically been absent from trial sessions. The main reasons he gives is that he tied up with other court sessions or interrogating witnesses on the stand on those same dates and times; something which is difficult to verify” says attorney Ghoukasyan. He describes such behavior as mocking the court system and is thus calling for Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates to investigate the actions of Mr. K. Grigoryan.
Attorney H. Ghoukasyan is convinced that, “All the evidence presented up till now has gone against the accused and the defense realizes that official charges cannot be avoided. This charade is their last cry to delay a verdict in the case.”
Mr. Igityan is looking at a possible jail sentence ranging from 4 to 8 years if found guilty of the charge of illegally appropriating property. Given the conduct of his lawyer the judge can “demand” that Igityan hire new counsel. It appears that this is exactly what the defense is striving for given that a new attorney can request additional time for adequate preparation, recalling witnesses and a host of other delaying tactics. In this way the entire matter can easily devolve into the “eternal trial” that Ghoukasyan had predicted.
“The judge must take into account the complexities of the case and the time already exhausted when making a decision regarding a change in defense counsel. The trial has been dragging on for over a year already while all that’s needed at this stage is for the defense to make its one hour closing statement for the entire matter to be wrapped up. Thus any change at this stage wouldn’t be propitious from the court’s perspective.” states Attorney Ghoukasyan. He believes that Igityan’s defense attorney has no personal interest in delaying the proceedings and that it is the defendant himself who is directing his counsel to take such an approach.
Mr. Ghoukasyan says that, “This is all the result of the fact that defendant Igityan was never taken into custody at the time as a pre-trial measure even though there were sufficient reasons to do so. Had Igityan been taken into custody he would have requested that trial sessions take place daily in order for the matter to be quickly resolved.” He goes on by concluding that the fastest route out of this entire jumble is for Igityan to be detained in the interim.
“It’s true, the defendant shows up at all the trial sessions and, on the face of it, appears not to hinder the court proceedings. But it’s clear to all what’s actually going on. In essence, the actions of the defense are leaving the court with no other alternative but to take the extreme measure of detaining the accused.” states Ghoukasyan.
What course of action Judge Vardanyan takes will become clear at the trial session scheduled for June 18th. Of course, this will depend on whether Defense Attorney K. Grigoryan shows up or not and whether the trial is once again postponed.