By Karine Kalantarian
A court in Yerevan allowed the National Security Service (NSS) on Friday to keep Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister opposed to the government, for two more months, ignoring protests from his lawyer.
The court of first instance of the city’s Kentron and Nork-Marash districts accepted NSS investigators’ arguments that they need more time to complete their politically charged inquiry into the allegedly illegal financing of his anti-government activities. The presiding judge, Ruben Nersisian, ruled that Arzumanian could obstruct the inquiry, have “illegal influence” on investigators and even go into hiding if he were to be set free.
The defense lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, condemned the ruling as “illegal and pathetic” and said he will appeal it. Arsenian also repeated his claims that the NSS lacks evidence against his client and is deliberately dragging out the criminal proceedings to keep him in jail as long as possible.
Arzumanian, who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister from 1996-1998, was arrested on May 7 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.
Arzumanian, who leads a small opposition group campaigning for regime change, denies being financed by Markos and attempting to “legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.” He and other prominent opposition politicians have denounced the case as politically motivated.
In a written petition to the court, a senior NSS official said that the security agency needs to investigate claims by a Moscow-based friend of Arzumanian, Aleksandr Aghazarian, that he is the one who sent the money to the former minister. The official said it has asked Russian prosecutors to certify the veracity of the claims and look into the legality of Aghazarian’s revenues.