Colonel Margar Ohanian, the former chief of the Armenian traffic police arrested in September, pleaded not guilty on Monday as he went on trial on charges of large-scale embezzlement of public funds.
Ohanian claimed that he has been unjustly prosecuted at the behest of more high-ranking and powerful state officials. He declined to name any of them, though.
Ohanian was arrested and sacked in a criminal investigation into the alleged theft of more than 150 tons of fuel that was allotted to road police cars. The case against him is based on incriminating testimony given by four of his former subordinates also standing trial. None of them is kept in pre-trial detention.
Throughout the investigation conducted by Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) Ohanian denied the charges, saying that he is not responsible for the alleged embezzlement.
Making his first appearance at a district court in Yerevan, the former police official described his first interrogation by the SIS on August 30. “After 40 minutes, after one phone call [to SIS investigators] I turned from a witness into a suspect and was arrested,” he said.
“There were some reasons for that which I can’t publicize now. They simply had to fire and arrest me in order to bring what was put up right at the beginning to a conclusion,” he added vaguely before asking for a private meeting with the presiding judge and the trial prosecutor.
Both men turned down the request, telling Ohanian to speak up in the courtroom. “If you have something to say, say it here,” said the prosecutor, Harutiun Harutiunian.
“I just wanted to tell you not to pick up others’ fight. Do not bring my personal relations with relevant chiefs to a conclusion here,” the defendant replied without elaborating.
While protesting his innocence, Ohanian announced through his lawyer last month that he, his family and friends have raised over $100,000 to compensate the state for the alleged embezzlement. The lawyer, Mkrtich Vasakian, described the payment as a “matter of honor and dignity” for his client.