YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — President Serzh Sarkisian has controversially awarded a medal for academic excellence to the teenage son of an Armenian town mayor charged with running over and killing a man with a government-owned car.

The 16-year-old Razmik Danielian, whose father Aram has governed the town of Hrazdan for almost 15 years, was among more than 100 schoolchildren who were awarded for their good grades on August 29. “I want to thank you for your deep curiosity and hard work,” Sarkisian said at a ceremony held in the presidential palace in Yerevan.

The ceremony came almost three months after a 58-year-old resident of Hrazdan, Valeri Torosian, was hit by a car and died in hospital shortly afterwards. According to Armenia’s Investigative Committee, the car belonging to the municipal administration was driven by Razmik Danielian and violated traffic rules.

Danielian has no driving license because of his young age. The law-enforcement agency decided not to keep him in custody pending investigation.

The Hrazdan mayor, who is affiliated with Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), acknowledged later in June that his son caused the deadly accident.

Sarkisian’s decision to hand the state award to the delinquent teenager has prompted strong criticism from independent Armenian media outlets. Some media commentators have portrayed it as further proof of impunity enjoyed by senior government officials, their cronies and relatives.

Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian, who also attended the award ceremony, dismissed the criticism when he spoke to reporters on Thursday. He insisted that Sarkisian did not know that the school student from Hrazdan is the mayor’s son. Danielian and the other students were nominated for the awards by the Education Ministry, he said.

“Why should [the president] know or not know that? After all, the medals are given for academic excellence,” added Mkrtchian, who is a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the HHK’s junior coalition partner.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear when the criminal investigation into the Hrazdan accident will be completed.

“The investigation is continuing,” Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We established that an underage person was at the wheel and he is prosecuted as the suspect in the case.”

Truzian claimed that forensic tests conducted so far produced no definitive results on the precise circumstances of the accident and that investigators have ordered more such tests because of that.“We need to receive a [forensic] conclusion before we can make a final evaluation,” she said. “The extent of any individual’s guilt has to be determined on the basis of forensic examinations.”

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