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The deputy governor of Armenia’s central Kotayk province, Levon Mikaelian, was arrested on Friday for what the National Security Service (NSS) described as bribery.

The NSS said Mikaelian was caught red-handed while accepting a bribe worth 40,000 drams (about $100) from the principal of a local public school. It did not name the headmaster.

NSS spokesman Artsvin Baghramian claimed that throughout his tenure Mikaelian has extorted kickbacks from the heads of secondary schools in Kotayk in return for making sure that their financial operations are not inspected by the provincial administration. The official threatened to “create problems for them” if they refused to pay up, Baghramian said.

It was not immediately clear if Mikaelian will plead guilty to the accusation. A member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), he has served as vice-governor since 2002.

Kotayk Governor Kovalenko Shahgaldian, meanwhile, described his deputy’s arrest as “very extraordinary” and “very unexpected.” Shahgaldian said he was not aware of the bribes allegedly demanded by Mikaelian. “You don’t need a permission to take a bribe,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Shahgaldian, who is also affiliated with the HHK, insisted that the arrested official was not in a position to inspect schools. “He has had nothing to do with inspections, and I don’t think that is credible,” he said, referring to the NSS allegations. “They can say anything at this point. But those are just theories.”

The governor also denied any possible connection between the embarrassing criminal case and recent weeks’ media speculation about his impending sacking.
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