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Armenian Probe Of Detention Death Says Suicide 'Possible'

Vahan Khalafian was among several arrested on suspicion of theft.

Vahan Khalafian was among several arrested on suspicion of theft.

An Armenian law enforcement body investigating the suspicious death of a man in police custody has moved closer to endorsing police claims that his death was the result of a suicide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said in a written statement on May 14 that forensic experts have concluded that Vahan Khalafian, a resident of the central town of Charentsavan, may have stabbed himself to death at the local police station on April 13.

Khalafian and several other young men were detained that day by police on suspicion of stealing 1.5 million drams ($3,900) worth of goods from a local entrepreneur. The 24-year-old was found dead several hours later.

The police, and Armenian police chief Alik Sarkisian in particular, claimed he was not ill-treated during the interrogation and committed suicide, denying torture allegations made by Khalafian's family based on wounds they say were found on his body.

The SIS questioned the police version of events by arresting two policemen and charging them with torture.

Sarkisian admitted later in April that he had misled the public about the scandalous case, saying he himself was "deceived" by subordinates into believing that Khalafian was not beaten in detention.

Still, the police chief insisted that Khalafian killed himself with a kitchen knife kept in a policeman's drawer.

In the final report cited by the SIS, state forensic investigators who examined Khalafian's body said they found two stab wounds on his abdomen.

They said the nature of those wounds and their "anatomic location" suggested that "their infliction by V. Khalafian upon himself is possible."

The experts also found numerous other injuries on his body. But they said none of those were life-threatening.

That Khalafian sustained two knife wounds was earlier reported by members of his family and Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist investigating his death.

They believe he could not have stabbed himself twice and was simply tortured to death.

The forensic experts said in that regard only one of the stab wounds is likely to have been deadly.