Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) on Wednesday again summoned former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian for questioning in a criminal investigation which he considers baseless and politically motivated.
Oskanian, who was already interrogated last week, spent about 90 minutes inside the NSS headquarters in downtown Yerevan together with his lawyer, Tigran Atanesian. He refused to give further testimony on alleged money laundering by himself and his Civilitas Foundation.
Oskanian refused to comment on the interrogation, referring all corresponding questions to Atanesian. The latter told reporters that his client exercised his “right to silence” guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Atanesian also said that Oskanian is still being formally treated by the NSS as a witness and that the security agency lacks the legal grounds to charge him. “The statements made by the NSS and the facts known to us testify to a blatant error, and we think it’s a deliberate error,” he said.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the NSS claimed that Civilitas has failed to report to tax authorities a $2 million donation which it received from two U.S. companies last year. Its spokesman, Artsvin Baghramian, said Wednesday that the NSS has nothing to add to that statement yet. “If new facts emerge we will inform the public,” Baghramian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Oskanian has strongly denied the NSS allegations, saying that they are not supported by any factual evidence and have nothing to do with money laundering.
The former minister, who has strongly criticized the Armenian government in recent months, insisted on Wednesday that the case is politically motivated. He said the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), of which he is a senior member, might issue a strongly worded statement to that effect soon.
With both Oskanian and BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian thought to have cordial ties with former President Robert Kocharian, media commentators have linked the controversial case with Kocharian’s alleged plans to return to active politics.
The ex-president has not yet reacted to the launch of criminal proceedings against a key member of his 1998-2008 administration. His press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Kocharian is currently not in Armenia and that he therefore cannot comment on the development.
Asked whether he has discussed the matter with Kocharian, Oskanian said, “It’s my problem, it’s not any other person’s problem. I consider this to be part of a political struggle chosen by the authorities and I will wage this struggle even on my own.”