By Karine Kalantarian
The family of Aleksandr Arzumanian on Thursday condemned as politically motivated and groundless the accusations of money laundering that have been leveled against the jailed former foreign minister staunchly opposed to Armenia’s leadership.
The condemnation was echoed by some of Armenia’s most famous human rights campaigners who pledged to fight for his release.
Arzumanian was arrested on May 7 and remanded in pre-trial detention three days later as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the alleged financing of his Civil Resistance Movement by a fugitive Russian-Armenian businessman. The arrest came two days after officers of the National Security Service (NSS) searched his Yerevan apartment and confiscated $55,4000 kept there. They also confiscated a comparable amount of cash from the Yerevan apartment of Vahan Shirkhanian, another movement leader and former government minister.
“All of us who know Aleksandr Arzumanian, personally or by reputation, believe that the criminal charges are absurd, that his arrest is part of an ongoing campaign by the current leadership of violence and intimidation, bribery and misuse of administration resources, aimed at suppressing true democracy and human rights in Armenia,” the opposition politician’s closest relatives said in a statement.
They appealed to his “friends and colleagues in Armenia and abroad” to help secure his release from jail. “Let it be known to the leadership and the people of Armenia that you are following this case, that you are concerned, that you care,” the statement said.
Arzumanian’s American wife, Melissa Brown, said she also sent a separate appeal to the U.S. embassy in Yerevan.
The NSS claims that Arzumanian and Shirkhanian received a total of $180,000 for subversive purposes from Levon Markos, an ethnic Armenian citizen of Russia who is wanted by the Yerevan government for alleged financial fraud. The security agency charged the former foreign minister with trying to “legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.” Both men deny receiving any cash from Markos.
Arzumanian’s defense lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, said NSS investigators would have no grounds to prosecute his client even if he admitted being financed by the fugitive businessman. He argued that just because Markos is on the run does not mean that his earnings are illegal.
“They have not verified and will never verify whether that money was indeed earned by unlawful means,” Arsenian told journalists, again dismissing the charges as politically motivated. He claimed that the authorities brought the case to hold radical opposition groups in check.
“According to our information, even government officials often go to Moscow and meet Levon Markos,” said Edik Baghdasarian, a prominent investigative journalist. “The authorities know his whereabouts. But if they want, we can tell them where he lives.”
Baghdasarian is one of six human rights campaigners and other prominent public figures who issued a separate statement in support of Arzumanian. “The political subtext of his persecution is palpable,” the statement said.
The signatories, among them Soviet-era dissident Vartan Harutiunian and the head of the Armenian affiliate of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, Amalia Kostanian, also vowed to save no effort to campaign for the ex-minister’s release.
(Photolur photo: Aleksandr Arzumanian.)