A man has been formally charged in an ongoing criminal investigation into last May’s mass explosions of balloons during an election campaign gathering held by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), police said on Thursday.
A short statement issued by Armenian police said that Serob Bozoyan, a 54-year-old resident of Yerevan, is facing heavy fines and up to five years in prison under a Criminal Code article dealing with the production and sale of goods not meeting safety standards. Bozoyan was not arrested pending trial.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of gas balloons exploded at the HHK event organized in Yerevan’s main Republic Square on May 4, two days before parliamentary elections. At least 154 people, most of them young HHK supporters, were hospitalized with serious burns. Some of them underwent plastic surgery afterwards.
A senior police official, Arsen Ayvazian, said on Friday that the investigators have established that that the balloons were filled with inflammable natural gas by several individuals at a single Yerevan apartment. Bozoyan is presumably one of them.
The police statement did not clarify if criminal charges could also be brought against other persons and, in particular, the organizers of the event that featured live performances by Armenian pop singers and a speech by President Serzh Sarkisian.
Bozoyan refused to comment when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone. “Please let me go about my business,” he said.
Safety standards normally require balloons used for public events attended by a large number of people to be filled with helium, an inert gas that does not burn but is more expensive than natural gas. HHK officials have dismissed suggestions that the ruling party deliberately ordered cheaper balloons to economize on campaign expenses. Accordingly, they have denied the HHK’s responsibility for the explosions.