Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister highly critical of Armenia’s government, has been summoned to the National Security Service (NSS) for questioning in a criminal investigation which he denounced as politically motivated on Monday.
In a written statement, Oskanian said the NSS has opened a criminal case on money laundering allegedly involving himself and the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan think-tank which he founded and headed until recently.
“I find it strange and astonishing that my work and the work of Civilitas can in any way be linked to money laundering or illegally acquired funds,” he said. “Even more astonishing is that such a question is being raised at a time when I have entered politics.”
“It is obvious to me that the criminal case that has been opened is politically motivated,” he added.
The NSS, which is the Armenian successor agency to the Soviet KGB and normally deals with very serious criminal cases, confirmed the summons and the launch of criminal proceedings against Oskanian and Civilitas. But it declined to comment further.
Oskanian insisted that Civilitas’s activities have always been transparent and legal. “Since its first days in 2008, the Civilitas Foundation's programs have been supported by the governments of the Netherlands and Poland, the foreign ministries of Norway and Germany, the international development organizations of Switzerland and the UK, the US Embassy in Yerevan, the OSCE Yerevan Office, as well as other well-known organizations, corporations and individuals,” he said. “This has been public information. The government agencies of the Republic of Armenia clearly could not have been ignorant about these relationships.”
Civilitas’s four-year activities have focused on the analysis of political and economic developments in and around Armenia as well as public discussions featuring politicians, intellectuals and other public figures. The think-tank also launched an Internet TV station targeting mainly young Armenians last September.
Among members of its Honorary Board are Canada’s former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, Israel’s former Education Minister Yossi Sarid, Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, U.S.-Armenian rock singer Serj Tankian and Turkish human rights activist Murat Belge.
Oskanian, who served as foreign minister in former President Robert Kocharian’s administration from 1998-2008, resigned as Civilitas head earlier this year, shortly after announcing his return to the political arena and joining the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). He has repeatedly criticized the Sarkisian government’s economic and other policies since then, provoking angry reactions from some senior members of the president’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
A Syrian-born former U.S. citizen, Oskanian was particularly critical of the government in the run-up to the May 6 parliamentary elections. He was instrumental in having the BHK, until now a member of the country’s governing coalition, denounce the Armenian authorities’ handling of the vote jointly with two major opposition forces. He also strongly backed the BHK’s subsequent decision not to join a new government currently being formed by Sarkisian.
The BHK is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman believed to be close to Kocharian. This is why some Armenian analysts have linked Oskanian’s membership of the BHK with the ex-president’s alleged plans to stage a political comeback. The BHK’s decision to quit the government has only stoked that speculation.