YEREVAN -- A U.S. businessman of Armenian descent has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of pedophilia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Serop Der-Boghossian, the owner of a mining firm based in the northern Armenian town of Akhtala, was convicted of "coercing" local underage boys to have sex with him.
Der-Boghossian, 70, whose Metal Prince company is the small town's main employer, was arrested in February following media reports that accused him of engaging in homosexual contact with Akhtala teenagers.
State prosecutors said he seduced them in 2009-10 with cash and other "material assistance."
Der-Boghossian strongly denied the allegations shortly before his arrest. In a February 3 statement, he said unnamed individuals were trying to seize control of Metal Prince by ruining his reputation.
But during his ensuing trial held in closed session, the Iraqi-born businessman said he had consensual sex with both underage boys and older men. He insisted that it was not against their will.
A court in Vanadzor, capital of the northern Lori province, backed the prosecutors' claims, however, convicting him under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with forcible sex with minors.
Der-Boghossian's lawyer, Tigran Safarian, condemned the verdict as unfair and said he would appeal it. "If, according to the prosecution, an individual had a sexual relationship with Serop Der-Boghossian for two years he could not have done that against his will," Safarian told RFE/RL.
But Hovsep Sarkisian, one of the trial prosecutors, dismissed this argument. He insisted that the defendant exploited the poverty of Akhtala boys and made them "materially dependent" on him. "We have to bear in mind that the victims were underage," he said.
The prosecution identified 10 victims in what has been Armenia's most high-profile pedophilia case to date. All of them testified during the trial. The Vanadzor court was also presented with video evidence of Der-Boghossian's illicit relationships.
Der-Boghossian was listed as an adviser to Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on the government’s website until January 31. According to the government press office, the Metal Prince owner stopped working for Sarkisian on December 31, 2010, for reasons unrelated to the sex scandal.
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