A scholar affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion which he denies as politically motivated.
Arshak Banuchian, who until recently was the deputy director of Yerevan’s Matenadaran museum-institute of ancient manuscripts, avoided going to jail thanks to a general amnesty that was declared by the Armenian authorities in June.
Banuchian was already arrested and spent four months in detention in the wake of the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. Like scores of other jailed oppositionists, he was accused at the time of inciting and participating in the “mass disturbances.” He was also charged with bribing people in the southern Vayots Dzor region to vote for opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian during the February 2008 presidential election.
State prosecutors subsequently dropped these charges for lack of evidence only to open a new criminal case against Banuchian stemming from his continuing management of a charity that supports Matenadaran. They claim that he “wasted” 2.35 million drams ($6,000) which the Friends of Matenadaran Fund received from the Armenian Apostolic Church in 2007 to publish a promotional magazine dedicated to the famous institute.
Banuchian maintained throughout his trial that he did not misappropriate the donation and that the magazine was not published because the fund’s board of trustees has not held a meeting yet.
A court in Yerevan dismissed this explanation as unconvincing and ordered him to transfer the sum to the fund. The court also found substantiated tax authorities’ allegations that a publishing company owned by the scholar “malevolently” avoided paying more than 10 million drams in taxes.
Banuchian, who currently works at Matenadaran in another capacity, denounced the verdict as unfair and said he will appeal it at higher courts. He said the case is part of the Armenian government’s attempts to “intimidate intellectuals who have opposition views or are with the Armenian National Congress.”