By Karine Kalantarian
Aleksandr Arzumanian, a prominent opposition politician charged with money laundering, remained adamant in denying any wrongdoing and alleging political motives behind his controversial arrest as he spoke to RFE/RL in a maximum-security prison in Yerevan on Tuesday.
“I repeat that I never did anything illicit,” he said. “This is political persecution.”
Arzumanian has been kept in the basement jail of Armenia’s National Security Service for the past three weeks on charges of illegally receiving a large amount of money from Levon Markos, a fugitive Russian businessman of Armenian descent. His arrest came two days after NSS officers of 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 prominent oppositionist. But unlike Arzumanian, Shirkhanian was not accused of attempting to “legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.”
The two men used to held senior positions in government and now co-ahead the Civil Resistance Movement, a small opposition group campaigning for regime change in the country. They both deny being financed by Markos.
Arzumanian, who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister from 1996-1998, claimed that he was arrested because President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian were worried about street protests staged by other opposition groups. “The authorities were in total panic before the elections as the wave of protests was gaining momentum and demonstrations were growing bigger,” he said.
“During the nearly one month that I have been here I have not faced any questions or [investigative] actions. I was simply isolated. They themselves have probably understood that they have no facts,” added the former minister.
Arzumanian’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, similarly claimed that a seven-member team of NSS investigators tasked with the case is essentially idle. He said they have failed, in particular, to investigate media reports quoting another ethnic Armenian citizen of Russia as admitting that he is the one who sent the confiscated cash to Arzumanian. The man, identified as Aleksandr Aghazarian, was reported to have revealed his address and offered the NSS to question him.