By Shakeh Avoyan
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian met with the wife of former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian on Tuesday to discuss the politically charged criminal case against the arrested opposition politician.
The meeting lasted for less than ten minutes, with Melissa Brown again protesting her husband’s innocence and demanding his release from pre-trial detention. Brown, who is a U.S. citizen, looked dissatisfied with its results as she spoke with RFE/RL afterwards.
“I asked him the question which I am always asked: Why did they arrest Alik? Especially considering the fact that he has long known Alik,” she said.
Brown would not say if Sarkisian, who had served with Arzumanian in the same Armenian cabinet from 1996-1998, pledged to intervene in the highly controversial criminal proceedings. “I don’t want to speak for him,” she said. “You should ask the prime minister.”
“He didn’t put any questions to me. We just talked a little,” she added.
Arzumanian was arrested on May 7 and has since been kept in the basement jail of Armenia’s National Security Service 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 searched his Yerevan apartment and confiscated $55,400 worth of cash kept there.
They also confiscated a comparable amount of money from the Yerevan apartment of Vahan Shirkhanian, another prominent oppositionist. But unlike Arzumanian, Shirkhanian was not charged under an article of the Armenian criminal code that deals with money laundering.
The two oppositionists, who were key members of the administration of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, co-head the Civil Resistance Movement, a small opposition group campaigning for regime change in the country. They both deny being financed by Markos.
Arzumanian’s arrest has been condemned as politically motivated by virtually all major Armenian opposition parties as well as some human rights campaigners and other civil society figures. Brown has actively participated in street protests staged by them in Yerevan. Sarkisian offered to meet her after one such rally held outside his office earlier this month.
Brown said she will continue to campaign for Arzumanian’s release. “I don’t pin hopes on anyone,” she said. “I just want to talk to and share my thoughts with everyone.”
Meanwhile, it is still not clear when Arzumanian, who refuses to answer questions from NSS investigators, will go on trial or whether he will be tried at all. The NSS has been unwilling to divulge further details of the case.
Arzumanian’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, claims that the former KGB lacks the evidence to prosecute his client and is deliberately dragging out the investigation. According to Arsenian, the investigators have failed, in particular, to look into media reports quoting another ethnic Armenian citizen of Russia as admitting that he is the one who sent the confiscated sum to Arzumanian.
The man, identified as Aleksandr Aghazarian, was reported to have revealed his address and offered the NSS to question him.