Two mid-level officers of Armenia’s armed forces, who were fired on extortion charges late last year, will not stand trial and risk imprisonment because of "repenting" their alleged crimes, military investigators said on Friday.
Vartan Martirosian, the commander of an army battalion stationed in the southern Ararat province, and his deputy Artur Karapetian were arrested in mid-October and released on bail two weeks later.
Martirosian allegedly forced soldiers serving there on a contractual basis to borrow loans from commercial banks and give them to him. Karapetian, for his part, was accused of illegally collecting 1 million drams ($2800) from servicemen, ostensibly for buying a computer for his commander. Both men were formally relieved of their duties in mid-November.
Armen Harutiunian, head of the Armenian Defense Ministry’s Investigative Department, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the criminal case against them has been dropped because of their “meaningful repentance.” He would not say whether they will be reinstated in their previous positions.
A Defense Ministry spokesman clarified that Armenian law allows Martirosian and Karapetian to resume their military service. Reports in the Armenian press have claimed that Colonel-General Yuri Khachaturov has already promised Martirosian a new job.
Martirosian is said to be a friend of Khachaturov’s son, who commands a bigger army detachment deployed in Ararat.
The sackings of the two officers were among a series of punitive measures taken by the Defense Ministry against several dozen army servicemen after a spate of non-combat deaths and other violent incidents in the army ranks.
The military investigators’ decision to spare them potential imprisonment will be seized upon by human rights campaigners and other government critics who dismiss the Armenian military’s pledges get tougher on army crime.
Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee said it was the result of a “dubious and untrustworthy process.” “This raises doubts about the objectivity of the investigation,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Ishkhanian also objected the officers’ possible return to the armed forces. “I don’t think that anyone would sincerely repent in such cases and resist more such temtpations in the future,” he said.
Artur Sakunts, a Vanadzor-based activist monitoring army abuses, condemned the investigators’ decision in even stronger terms. “We can say with sarcasm that this was a great present to the army and the society on the occasion of Army Day [marked on January 28,]” Sakunts told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “This is an example of favoritism towards individuals who committed a crime.”
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian insisted on Friday that the military is now “thinking more seriously about our shortcomings” and will do more strengthen the army discipline this year.
Ohanian, who reportedly has an uneasy rapport with Khachaturov, indicated at the same time that sweeping changes in the army’s top brass are unlikely. “Those officers who are able to meet those requirements that are set … by the Defense Ministry will constantly serve and work with us,” he told journalists. “As for those who fall short, we give them positions corresponding to their potential.”