By Karine Kalantarian
Aleksandr Arzumanian, a prominent opposition figure controversially kept in jail for four months, on Monday downplayed his surprise release last week and demanded that the “ludicrous” money laundering case against him be dropped altogether.
“That ludicrous, fabricated charge has not been dropped, the political order is still there, and nobody has apologized for the four months spent by me [in jail,]” Arzumanian said in his first public appearance since being set free from pre-trial detention.
“The absurd situation that arose on May 7, when this ludicrous charge was leveled against me, continues to exist,” he said.
Arzumanian, who had served as foreign minister from 1996-1998 and is strongly opposed to Armenia’s current leadership, was unexpectedly released from the basement prison of the National Security Service (NSS) at Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian’s orders on Thursday. The development came just one week after a Yerevan court allowed the NSS to keep him under arrest for two more months. The court accepted the security agency’s claims that Arzumanian could obstruct the investigation or even flee the country if set free.
Hovsepian made it clear that law-enforcement authorities continue to believe that Arzumanian’s anti-government activities were illegally financed by Levon Markos, a fugitive Russian businessman of Armenian descent.
Arzumanian has denied being funded by Markos throughout the inquiry. The denial was bolstered by Aleksandr Aghazarian, a Moscow-based friend of Arzumanian’s who stated publicly later in May that he was the source of $55,400 that was found and confiscated in the ex-minister’s apartment by NSS officers.
According to Hovsepian, the investigators have asked Russian prosecutors to check the veracity of Aghazarian’s claim and the legality of his stated revenues.
Speaking at a news conference, Arzumanian said the fact that they have not dropped the charges violates his and his friend’s presumption of innocence. “Today they can enter any bank and detain anyone receiving cash [from abroad,]” he said. “Let them check everyone [sending money to Armenia.] Let them check whether [U.S.-Armenian billionaire and philanthropist] Kirk Kerkorian earned his money by legal means and paid taxes.
“Maybe it will turn out that Armenia’s entire banking system and the presidential administration, which handles Kerkorian’s money, is laundering money.”
“I will fight to restore my good reputation and to make sure that all slanderers are held accountable,” he added.
Arzumanian was more vague about his political activities and the future of the Civil Resistance Movement, a small opposition group which he set up last year to campaign for regime change in the country. “I have been in politics for a very long time and have never thought about quitting politics. I will stay in politics. Time will tell in what form,” he said without elaborating.