Former President Robert Kocharian on Wednesday condemned the controversial criminal case against Vartan Oskanian and voiced support for the opposition politician who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister throughout his decade-long rule.
“The nonsense of this whole affair is disappointing,” Kocharian said in a written statement. “I feel sorry for what has happened and express my sympathy and support for Vartan Oskanian.”
“Vartan Oskanian was one of the most successful ministers and is one of the politicians who passed the test of government,” he said. “He has been effective and honest both in the past, in government, and now.”
The statement came in response to the Armenian parliament’s decision on Tuesday to lift Oskanian’s immunity from prosecution on charges of embezzling a $1.4 million donation that was made by U.S. businessman Jon Huntsman Sr. to the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan think-tank founded by the former minister. Oskanian and his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in the parliament, deny the accusations as politically motivated.
Kocharian echoed their arguments that neither Huntsman nor the current Civilitas leadership has alleged any wrongdoing by Oskanian. “I carefully familiarized myself with the published details of the ‘case’ and could not find the answer to the key question: what is the National Security Service, the prosecutors and the parliament to do with friendly relations between, Jon Huntsman, Vartan Oskanian and the Civilitas Foundation?” said Kocharian.
By allowing the NSS to press charges against Oskanian the National Assembly discredited itself and damaged Armenia’s reputation, charged Kocharian. “This is not what Armenia needs now,” he said.
In what may have been a veiled warning to President Serzh Sarkisian, his successor and former ally, Kocharian stressed that Oskanian must not be persecuted “even for the sake of one’s own authority.” “Especially given that he represents a party with a very serious segment of the electorate,” he added, referring to the BHK.
The BHK leadership has denounced the case as an act of “political persecution” targeting not only Oskanian but the entire party headed by Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman close to Kocharian. The Armenian authorities deny any political motives, however.
Oskanian stepped up his criticism of the Sarkisian administration after returning to active politics and joining the BHK in February. The development stoked lingering media speculation that Kocharian is plotting a return to power and increasingly using the BHK for that purpose. Some observers say the controversial case against Oskanian is therefore a stern government warning to the ex-president.
Kocharian, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, did not rule out the possibility of a political comeback in his previous statements.
Meanwhile, top representatives of Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) rebutted Kocharian’s criticism and defended the HHK-controlled parliament’s decision to give the green light to Oskanian’s prosecution.
“Nonsense is turning a blind eye to a crime,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the HHK spokesman. “Nonsense is when the parliament doesn’t allow law-enforcement bodies to perform their constitutional functions. Nonsense is politicizing such legal matters.”
Galust Sahakian, the leader of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, claimed that the statement was drawn up and released not by Kocharian. “It is not Robert Kocharian’s style and approach,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He argued that the ex-president himself pushed for the prosecution of some parliament deputies while in office.