Three police officers in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri were sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday on chargers of bribery which they strongly denied.
The officers were arrested in August last year in a police raid on Gyumri’s central market where they maintained order on a daily basis. A special police squad sent there from Yerevan also briefly detained dozens of traders, reportedly damaging their business property and goods.
The policemen, Seyran Petrosian, Sarkis Parsamian, Hovannes Grigorian, were charged with collecting a total of 15.6 million drams ($41,000) in kickbacks from 39 traders in the past four years. During their subsequent five-month trial, some of those traders withdrew their incriminating testimony or claimed that they voluntarily gave the defendants money out of gratitude.
Another piece of evidence cited by prosecutors is a notebook found in the market’s police post. It contained names and addresses of people doing business there as well as other information which prosecutors portrayed as proof of the alleged bribery.
All three defendants pleaded not guilty to the accusations. Petrosian rejected them as “fabricated,” arguing that neither he, nor his arrested colleagues were caught red-handed. In his concluding court remarks in a Gyumri court, he also accused the police of committing numerous legal violations both during the market raid and the ensuing inquiry.
“In order to cover up all these violations and dodge responsibility before their superiors, the investigative bodies resorted to illegal steps to collect some evidence against us,” said Petrosian. He then appealed to President Serzh Sarkisian to intervene in the high-profile case and ensure its fair adjudication.
The judge in the case, Martin Saroyan, found the charges substantiated, hading down a punishment that disqualifies the defendants from a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities recently.
Corruption within Armenia’s police service and other law-enforcement bodies has long been a serious problem. While mid- and low-ranking officers are occasionally fired or jailed on corruption charges, very few high-ranking security officials are known to have been prosecuted for graft.