Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was again summoned to Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) on Monday in his continuing prosecution on charges which he considers politically motivated.
As was the case during his previous visits to the NSS headquarters in Yerevan, Oskanian refused to give testimony on the controversial fraud case that was brought shortly after he joined the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) early this year.
According to his lawyer Tigran Atanesian, NSS investigators sought to question him in connection with allegations by the Civilitas Foundation, a think-tank founded by Oskanian, that the Armenian authorities started persecuting him in 2009. Atanesian said they were specifically interested in Civilitas claims that an unspecified Armenian commercial bank revoked its decision to appoint Oskanian as a member of its board under government pressure.
“The NSS tried to question him but Mr. Oskanian did not testify in connection with that,” the lawyer told journalists.
Oskanian was formally charged with embezzlement and money laundering last month immediately after the Armenian parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution. He stands accused of misappropriating a portion of a nearly $2 million donation that was made by a U.S. philanthropist to Civilitas two years ago.
Oskanian strongly denies the accusations, calling them a government retribution for his strong criticism of President Serzh Sarkisian and the BHK’s decision to pull out of Armenia’s ruling coalition in May. The authorities, for their part, deny any political motives behind the case also condemned by the BHK leadership.
Oskanian, who served as foreign minister throughout former President Robert Kocharian’s 1998-2008 rule, last month expressed readiness to stand as a BHK candidate in Armenia’s upcoming presidential election. The party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian has still not announced whether it will challenge Sarkisian in the ballot.
Oskanian seemed to imply on Monday that the BHK will not back Sarkisian’s reelection bid. “The party will make its decision and after that we will continue our struggle with joint efforts and the BHK will undoubtedly make its great contribution to all this,” he told reporters outside the NSS building. “There is not much time left, the answer to that [question] will come very soon.”