Prosecutors launched on Friday criminal proceedings against a pro-government election official who has allegedly tried to bribe an opposition colleague into turning a blind eye to fraud in Armenia’s upcoming constitutional referendum.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General opened the criminal case in response to a formal complaint lodged by Levon Zurabian, a leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), an opposition party represented in each of the nationwide commissions that will hold the December 6 vote.
Zurabian said on Thursday that he will send the prosecutors video evidence of an attempt to bribe a member of a precinct commission in Yerevan affiliated with the HAK. He claimed that the HAK representative was offered money by another commission member loyal to the government.
In a statement, the prosecutors said they have ordered the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body subordinate to them, to detain and question the referendum official. The SIS was also instructed to seek the official’s suspension.
The HAK welcomed the development. “It looks like the prosecutors are finally performing their duties in accordance with the law,” one of its legal experts, Armen Khachatrian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Khachatrian said that the HAK will submit evidence of more such practices to law-enforcement authorities if they properly handle this case. “Unfortunately, there are many such cases,” he said. “There is a pattern of [government loyalists] meeting commission members, offering them financial incentives or influencing them otherwise so that they do not perform their legal duties.”
The HAK and the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage), which is also represented in the referendum commissions, alleged widespread attempts to bribe their electoral representatives in a joint statement issued earlier this week. Both groups claim that the authorities are planning to rig the referendum on controversial constitutional changes put forward by President Serzh Sarkisian.
The authorities deny this, saying that they are committed to a free and fair vote.