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Armenian Investigators Point To Suicide In Police Custody Case

Vahan Khalafian, who died in police custody

Vahan Khalafian, who died in police custody

An Armenian law-enforcement body investigating a suspicious death in police custody has largely endorsed police claims that the man committed suicide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Relatives of 24-year-old Vahan Khalafian and human rights activists maintain that he was tortured and subsequently killed while being interrogated in the central town of Charentsavan last month.

The head of Armenia's Special Investigative Service (SIS), Andranik Mirzoyan, told RFE/RL that the murder theory has been considered by detectives. He added, "A detailed inquiry has been conducted, but this version [of murder] has not been grounded."

Khalafian and several other young men were detained by the Charentsavan police on April 13 on suspicion of stealing 1.5 million drams ($3,900) worth of goods. Khalafian was found dead several hours later.

Armenian police first claimed Khalafian was not ill-treated during the interrogation and had committed suicide. However, the SIS called this version of events into question by arresting two police officers on charges of abuse of authority in driving the young man to commit suicide.

But based on the findings of forensic experts, the SIS is leaning toward endorsing the police version of events according to which Khalafian stabbed himself to death at the police station.

Mirzoyan said the SIS investigation is nearing completion and the case could be sent to court early next month.

"Findings from several examinations have not been received yet, and we will give the final legal estimation before the end of the investigation," he said, stressing that the findings of forensic experts received so far substantiate "the suicide version."