A deputy chairman of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on Friday hit out at U.S. Ambassador John Heffern for criticizing the controversial criminal case against former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
Heffern voiced the criticism in his video blog on October 10, the day after Oskanian was formally charged with money-laundering and embezzlement. He said the development, condemned by Oskanian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), is “bad for justice and democracy in Armenia.”
“As I have said previously, the case appears to represent the selective application of Armenian law,” added Heffern. “Moreover, the timing of these events in relation to the election schedule is troubling.”
“We urge the government of Armenia to live up to its commitments to the systematic, fair and transparent implementation of the rule of law,” he warned.
The chief spokesman for the ruling HHK, deputy parliament speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, was quick to reject the criticism, reiterating Armenian government assurances that there are no political motives behind Oskanian’s prosecution.
Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s deputy chairman and parliamentary faction leader, went further on Friday, launching a scathing attack on Heffern. “The statement by the U.S. ambassador has further deepened suspicions,” Sahakian told journalists. “Why hasn’t the Chinese ambassador made statements? Because in the history of the United States, there have been no statements of this kind by any ambassador or other government official.”
Sahakian claimed that the diplomat expressed his personal opinion, rather than the U.S. government’s position on the matter. “This was a very cunning statement,” he said.
Sahakian also seemed to allege ulterior motives behind a $2 million donation that was made by U.S. philanthropist Jon Huntsman to Oskanian’s Civilitas Foundation two years ago. “A benefactor also gives [a beneficiary] a program on the purpose [of the donation.] Is Oskanian the only person in Armenia [eligible for Huntsman’s donations?]” he said.
Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claims that Oskanian misappropriated a $1.4 million portion of the donation. Oskanian has strongly denied this, accusing the authorities of harassing him and the BHK as a whole ahead of a presidential election due in February. The BHK leadership has likewise alleged “political persecution” by the authorities.