YEREVAN -- A Yerevan court has begun a trial for six men accused of plotting to assassinate Gagik Khachatrian, the head of Armenia's State Revenue Committee (SRC), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
The defendants were among nine individuals arrested a year ago in a criminal investigation into a May 2009 explosion near Khachatrian's Yerevan apartment.
The blast was reportedly caused by a homemade explosive device planted at a construction site adjacent to the apartment block in the city center. No one was hurt.
Law-enforcement authorities identified Robert Yeritsian, a former head of an antismuggling department at the Armenian customs service, as the mastermind of what they say was a botched attempt on Khachatrian's life.
Yeritsian fled Armenia at the time and remains on the run. He has denied the accusations through his father, Albert, a wealthy businessman who governed Yerevan's northern Arabkir district until June 2009.
Robert Yeritsian was fired in April 2008 shortly after being criticized by President Serzh Sarkisian on television.
The customs service was headed by Khachatrian at the time. It was merged with the State Tax Service into a single agency, the SRC, later in 2008.
A trial prosecutor today stood by the investigators' claims that Yeritsian hired, through a middleman, a criminal group and paid it $150,000 to kill Khachatrian. The gang was allegedly led by Gagik Matevosian, a former deputy commander of a special operations squad of Interior Ministry troops.
Matevosian and the other defendants face a long list of charges, including attempted murder, illegal arms possession, and "banditism." They also stand accused of plotting to assassinate Sarkisian and former President Robert Kocharian.
All but one defendant plead not guilty to the murder accusations. Matevosian admitted to illegally keeping weapons, ammunition, and explosive materials.
"The accusation of a murder attempt will not be substantiated in the court," his lawyer, Anahit Yesayan, told RFE/RL.
"They call it a gang, but even according to prosecutors, not a single crime was completed by them," said Tigran Atanesian, another defense lawyer.
The trial is due to continue on July 23.