The head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), Gorik Hakobian, on Friday criticized Vartan Oskanian for refusing to give testimony in a controversial criminal investigation which the former foreign minister regards as politically motivated.
“An honest person must explain, yell, write, tell everyone that he is honest and that this or that is wrong,” Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after attending a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “But being silent like a [captured] guerilla fighter is unacceptable.”
Oskanian, who is now a senior member of the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), has twice been summoned to the NSS this month for questioning in connection a money laundering case opened by the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB. He refused to answer NSS investigators’ questions at the last interrogation on June 13.
The case stems from a nearly $2 million donation which the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan-based think-tank founded by Oskanian, received from two U.S. companies last year. The sum was transferred from proceeds from the sale of their Armenian subsidiary, Huntsman Building Products. The NSS claims that Civilitas failed to declare the donation to tax authorities. Oskanian strongly denies that and says the case is politically motivated.
The former minister resigned as chairman of Civilitas’s governing board earlier this year shortly after joining the BHK to contest the May 6 parliamentary elections. He repeatedly criticized the Armenian government during the parliamentary race.
The NSS launched the criminal proceedings on May 25, the day after the BHK announced its decision to pull out of the country’s ruling coalition. Oskanian strongly backed that decision.
Oskanian was due to be again questioned on Friday. But the interrogation was postponed to Monday.
Earlier this week, Oskanian offered to publicize all of Civilitas’s financial documents to disprove the NSS claims. He needs the investigators’ permission to do that.
Meanwhile, Civilitas announced later in the day that tax officials visited its offices in downtown Yerevan to request its “financial documentation since the Foundation’s establishment in May 2008.” “This request came on the heels of summons presented by the National Security Service calling members of the Civilitas Board for questioning during the next week,” it said in a statement.
The foundation insisted earlier that its financial activities have always been declared to tax and other authorities.
However, Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian disputed these assurances on Friday. “That organization, along with 500 other organizations, was obliged to present a report on its activities to the Ministry of Justice but didn’t do that,” he told a news conference.
Tovmasian also effectively denied political motives behind the NSS inquiry.
For its part, the Office of the Prosecutor-General, said that it is considering Oskanian’s petition to order the NSS to drop the case. A spokeswoman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the prosecutors will respond to the Civilitas founder by Sunday.