Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the Civilitas Foundation founded by him have asked a court in Yerevan to halt controversial criminal proceedings launched against them by the Armenian authorities, their lawyers said on Thursday.
They insisted that the money laundering case brought by the National Security Service (NSS) is baseless and politically motivated.
The criminal case was opened on May 25, the day after the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), of which Oskanian is a senior member, announced its decision to pull out of Armenia’s ruling coalition. The BHK move was widely construed as a blow to President Serzh Sarkisian.
The NSS claims that Civilitas failed to declare to tax authorities a nearly $2 million donation which the think-tank received from two U.S. companies last year. Both firms are owned by John Huntsman, a wealthy U.S. businessman who has spent an estimated $18 million on the reconstruction of Armenia’s northern regions devastated by a 1988 earthquake.
One of Oskanian’s lawyers, Tigran Atanesian, said the fact that the NSS has said nothing about the criminal origin of Huntsman’s donation is alone sufficient grounds for ordering the feared security agency to stop alleging money laundering. He also alleged serious procedural violations during the launch of the criminal investigation.
Artur Grigorian, another lawyer, said the court will hardly accept these arguments. “Our chances of success are not high for the simple reason that the entire judicial system has to work to somehow substantiate that criminal case,” he told journalists.
The NSS and the Armenian government have denied any political motives behind the investigation. The NSS chief, Gorik Hakobian, has also lambasted Oskanian for his refusal to answer investigators’ questions.
As part of the probe, Armenia’s State Revenue Committee (SRC) began a detailed inspection of Civilitas’s financial documents earlier this month. The think-tank’s director, Salpi Ghazarian, said on Thursday that the inspection is not yet over. She suggested that SRC inspectors have failed to find any evidence of tax evidence or other wrongdoing.
“It looks like things are going well in accordance with our expectations,” Ghazarian said at a news conference. “Our financial documents are clean and this criminal action is absolutely baseless and this is apparently being confirmed.”
Ghazarian also accused the Armenian authorities of tarnishing both Huntsman’s and their country’s reputations. “This case is threatening Armenia’s reputation and credibility as a partner … That means we are not prepared to honestly work with those individuals who have engaged in nothing but benevolence in Armenia,” she said.