Former Armenian Prison Chief Arrested For ‘Kidnapping’

By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
July 31 2007

A former head of Armenia’s prisons and detention facilities has been
arrested on charges of kidnapping and holding to ransom an Armenian
man in Moscow.

Law-enforcement authorities confirmed late Monday that Samvel
Hovannisian, who headed a Justice Ministry department running the
Armenian penitentiary system until June last year, was detained
on Friday. Officers of a special police unit tasked with combating
organized crime searched his Yerevan apartment shortly afterwards.

Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office told
RFE/RL that Hovannisian was formally charged Monday under an article
of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with kidnappings committed
by an "organized group" of individuals.

The law-enforcement agency detailed the accusations leveled against
him in a written statement on Tuesday. The statement said Hovannisian
was behind the June 27 kidnapping in Moscow of a man identified as
Rubik Simonian. It said Simonian was set free on July 6 after paying
a $300,000 ransom to a "representative" of the former prison chief.

The statement revealed that Hovannisian was arrested on a tip-off from
Ara Abrahamian, a prominent Russian businessman of Armenian descent.

Citing unnamed law-enforcement sources, the daily "Aravot" reported
that the investigators believe Hovannisian led a racketeering ring
that also comprised several Russians and Georgians. The paper said
they are cooperating with law-enforcement authorities in Russia and
Georgia as part of the inquiry. It also quoted the sources as saying
that Hovannisian has pleaded guilty to the accusations.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office confirmed that there are other suspects
in the case, saying that "measures are being taken to identify and
track down all of the individuals who committed the crime and to
clarify all circumstances of the incident."