By Astghik Bedevian
Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister striving for regime change in Armenia, was remanded in pre-trial custody on Thursday after being formally charged with politically motivated money laundering.
A court in Yerevan allowed the National Security Service (NSS) to keep Arzumanian in detention for two months as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the alleged financing of his Civil Resistance Movement by a fugitive Russian-Armenian businessman. The ruling came after a brief hearing held behind the closed doors.
Arzumanian was arrested on Monday two days after NSS officers searched his Yerevan apartment and confiscated $55,4000 kept there. They also confiscated a comparable amount of cash from the Yerevan apartment of Vahan Shirkhanian, another movement leader and former government minister.
The investigators have so far refrained from formally accusing or arresting Shirkhanian, however. They say the two oppositionists have received a total of $180,000 from Levon Markos, an ethnic Armenian citizen of Russia who is opposed to the Armenian government. Both men deny receiving any cash from Markos and claim that the case is politically motivated.
“Naturally, my client pleaded not guilty to the accusations and refused to give testimony [in the court,] saying that the case is politically motivated,” Arzumanian’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL. Arsenian also alleged political motives behind the case, saying that the authorities are thereby trying to hold the radical opposition in check.
The lawyer claimed on Wednesday the NSS lacks the evidence to prosecute Arzumanian and will likely release him.