By Astghik Bedevian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian admitted on Thursday that he spent his summer vacation in Monaco but denied visiting the tiny European principality's world-famous casinos along with other senior Armenian officials.
Sarkisian’s alleged weakness for gambling has long been a subject of reports and speculations in the Armenian media. According to newspapers critical of the government, he regularly visits expensive casinos in Moscow and Monte Carlo.
Sarkisian's most recent trip to Monaco was reported early last month. He was reportedly accompanied by Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian and Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian.
Sarkisian, who is widely regarded as Armenia’s second most powerful man after President Robert Kocharian, effectively confirmed the information as he spoke with journalists during a visit to a military academy in Yerevan. But he claimed that there are many Armenian “witnesses” who can testify that he did not gamble in the Monegasque city.
“The were many Armenians from Armenia and other countries in Monaco,” he said. “I am happy with that because there were too many witnesses. So nobody can spread slander against me.”
The minister did not specify how he spent his free time or who funded his trip to one of the world’s most expensive resorts. It was the first time that he publicly commented on the gambling allegations that have for years dogged him.
One of the leaders of the Armenian opposition, Artashes Geghamian, has repeatedly challenged him to confirm or refute those claims. Sarkisian dismissed Geghamian on Thursday as a “liar who likes gossiping and is empty like a drum.”