By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian authorities have decided to keep Aleksandr Arzumanian, a prominent opposition politician controversially charged with being illegally financed from abroad, under arrest for two more months, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Hovik Arsenian told RFE/RL that he was informed about that by officers of the National Security Service (NSS) handling the politically charged case. He said they will ask a court in Yerevan to extend Arzumanian’s pre-trial detention, which is due to expire on September 7, by another two months.
The court is expected to grant the request, having twice allowed the NSS to keep him in its basement jail pending investigation into what the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB views as money laundering.
Arzumanian, who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister from 1996-1998, was arrested on May 7 on charges of illegally receiving a large amount of money from Levon Markos, a fugitive Russian businessman of Armenian descent. His arrest came two days after NSS officers searched his Yerevan apartment and confiscated $55,400 worth of cash kept there.
They also confiscated a comparable amount of cash from the Yerevan apartment of Vahan Shirkhanian, another prominent oppositionist. But unlike Arzumanian, Shirkhanian was not accused of attempting to “legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.”
The two men co-head the Civil Resistance Movement, a small opposition group campaigning for regime change in the country. They both deny being financed by Markos, dismissing the case as politically motivated.
According to Arsenian, the NSS will tell the court that it needs time to investigate claims by a Moscow-based friend of Arzumanian, Aleksandr Aghazarian, that he is the one who sent the money to the former minister. He said the ex-KGB has asked Russian prosecutors to certify the veracity of the claims and look into the legality of Aghazarian’s revenues. The lawyer dismissed the justification as “illegal and pathetic,” saying that it violates his client’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence.
(Photolur photo: Aleksandr Arzumanian.)