By Astghik BedevianThe defense lawyer of Aleksandr Arzumanian claimed on Wednesday that the Armenian authorities lack the evidence to prosecute the former foreign minister on charges of politically motivated money laundering and will set him free later this week.
Arzumanian, who leads a small opposition group campaigning for regime change in Armenia, was detained late Monday for allegedly receiving cash from a fugitive Russian-Armenian businessman who is at loggerheads with the government in Yerevan.
The arrest, condemned by the country’s leading opposition forces, is part of a criminal investigation conducted by the National Security Service (NSS) under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with attempts to “legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.” The NSS has to formally charge Arzumanian under that article or release him from jail by Thursday night.
“I don’t think they will petition the court to allow his arrest,” the oppositionist’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL. “I think they will not charge him for the time being because they need time to conduct an in-depth investigation. They have yet to determine whether the sum [confiscated in Arzumanian’s apartment] was earned by illicit means and, if so, whether their recipient knew that.”
According to NSS spokesman Artsvi Baghramian, the feared security agency will decide whether or not to press charges against the prominent member of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s administration on Thursday.
The NSS searched the Yerevan apartments of Arzumanian and another leader of his Civic Resistance Movement, Vahan Shirkhanian, on Saturday, finding and confiscating about $85,000 worth of cash. The security agency says it was part of a $180,000 payment transferred to the two opposition politicians by Levon Markos, a Russian businessman of Armenian descent who is wanted by the Armenian authorities on fraud charges which he claims are trumped-up. An NSS statement on Monday said Markos is pursuing unspecified “goals” in Armenia on the eve of its parliamentary elections.
Both Shirkhanian, who has not been taken into NSS custody, and Arzumanian deny receiving any donations from the little-known entrepreneur. Arzumanian claims the $55,400 found in his home is royalties from his writings and speeches.
Arsenian would not be drawn on the origin of the money. “Even if there were wire transfers [to Arzumanian,] they were not necessarily illegal,” he said. “You can’t base a criminal case on presumptions.”
Arsenian also confirmed that his client has refused to answer any questions from his interrogators. “He has stated that he regards his arrest as a political order and believes that he is being prosecuted illegally,” the lawyer said.
(Photolur photo: Aleksandr Arzumanian.)