Vazgen Khachikian, the arrested former head of Armenia’s state pension fund, will go on trial soon as part of a large-scale criminal investigation into what law-enforcement authorities say were serious abuses in the payment of various social benefits.
Khachikian, who managed the State Social Security Service (SSSS) until December 2010, was arrested last September along with two of his former high-ranking subordinates. He is facing between four and eight years in prison on three counts of fraud and embezzlement, charges which he denies.
A prominent member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, Khachikian is one of over 50 former officials prosecuted in the inquiry ordered by state prosecutors in May 2011 and conducted by the Armenian police. Thirteen of them are currently under arrest pending trial. The suspects are accused or suspected of embezzling about 377 million drams ($930,000) in public funds that were due to be spent on pensions and other benefits.
A police spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that the separate probe of Khachikian’s role in the alleged scam was completed late last month. The materials of the high-profile case have to be studied by Khachikian and his lawyer before being sent to court.
The lawyer, Zhora Varosian, said his client continues to insist on his innocence. He said the former SSSS head at the same time stands by his view that the case is not politically motivated.
Khachikian’s arrest came about two weeks after President Serzh Sarkisian mentioned the 40-year-old as he publicly accused the Armenian government of tolerating what he described as widespread corruption in state procurements. The criticism was followed by a series of corruption inquiries and arrests of former and serving government officials. Some observers linked the crackdown with the upcoming presidential election in which Sarkisian will be seeking a second term in office.
Khachikian was sacked as pension fund chief two years ago shortly after the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber alleged that thousands of pensioners received, on paper, pensions years after their death. The chamber reported similar abuses in the payment of poverty and disability benefits. The criminal inquiry was subsequently launched on the basis of those claims.