Tigran Grigorian, the former head of the ministry’s State Ecological Inspectorate (SEI), and his deputy Arsen Petrosian were taken into custody after law-enforcement officers found large sums of cash in their offices.
Prosecutors say they received a total of 5 million drams ($13,700) from a mining company in the northern town of Akhtala that was inspected by them late last year. Grigorian and Petrosian were charged with receiving the kickback to drastically reduce 202 million drams in fines slapped on the company for violations of environmental safety rules.
Both men pleaded not guilty to accusations of “large-scale bribery” as they went on trial early this year. They insisted on their innocence on Thursday after prosecutors demanded eight years’ imprisonment for Grigorian and a ten-year prison sentence for his ex-deputy.
The latter also stands accused of accepting a 440,000 dram kickback from another mining firm.
“I can’t think of an effective method of defending myself,” a frustrated Grigorian told a Yerevan district court. “I can’t fully prove that I didn’t take that bribe. Should I jump on my head to make you believe in that?”
The former SEI chief claimed that the 3.7 million drams which he is accused of receiving from the Akhatala company was a loan, rather than a bribe. “I did not demand and receive a bribe from anyone,” he said. “I only regret and consider myself guilty of borrowing that sum without ascertaining its origin.”
The two defendants insisted that they were not in a position to lower the fine. They said Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian personally ordered his deputy Simon Papian to slash it to just 10 million drams after a meeting with company executives.
Papian was questioned by police immediately after the arrest of the two officials. He never faced any criminal charges.
Petrosian also claimed on Thursday the 440,000 drams ($1,200) paid to him by the other business entity was not a bribe but rather a compensation for transport and food expenses incurred by him during its inspections. “I deeply regret and accept my mistake, which was not to reject that ill-fated offer,” he said.