By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Thursday refused to release former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian from jail pending investigation into the allegedly illegal financing of his anti-government political activities.
It upheld a lower court’s decision earlier this month to allow the National Security Service (NSS) to keep the outspoken opposition politician under two-month arrest. The NSS claims that he illegally received cash from a fugitive Russian businessman of Armenian origin and will impede its criminal investigation if set free.
Arzumanian’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, condemned the ruling, accusing the high court of following “political orders,” rather than the law. Arsenian said NSS investigators told him that his client will be released on bail if he agrees to give testimony.
“I consider that humiliating,” the lawyer told RFE/RL. “He is making use of his constitutional right [not to testify.]”
Arzumanian was arrested on May 7 and remanded in pre-trial detention three days later over the alleged financing of his Civil Resistance Movement by Levon Markos, a Russian-Armenian businessman at odds with the Armenian government. The arrest came two days after NSS officers 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. But unlike Arzumanian, Shirkhanian has not been charged with attempts to “legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.” Both men deny having been funded by Markos.
“I join my client in declaring that the whole thing is a political order,” said Arsenian. “He hasn’t done anything illicit.”
Arzumanian’s American wife, Melissa Brown, was also present at the court session. She said she would like to meet President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and ask them to explain why her husband was arrested. She told RFE/RL: “Everyone asks, ‘Why did they arrest Alik?’ I say, ‘Don’t ask me, ask them.’ I too would like to ask them.”
Brown and other relatives of Arzumanian issued a statement last week condemning the case as politically motivated and asking his “friends and colleagues in Armenia and abroad” to help secure his release.