A senior member of Armenia’s ruling party on Friday dismissed opinions that the concern voiced by a Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) representative regarding the prosecution of former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian amounted to an evaluation from the Strasbourg-based body.
In a statement posted on the PACE’s official website on Thursday PACE rapporteur for the monitoring of Armenia Axel Fischer expressed his concern about the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of Oskanian, a senior member of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), on what he described as “controversial criminal charges”. The official said it was “especially worrying in the light of persistent allegations that political motives have played a role in the charges.”
Oskanian, who served as Armenia’s foreign minister in 1998-2008 and joined the BHK shortly before the May 2012 parliamentary elections that the party contested on a platform critical of the government, was stripped of his immunity on October 2 to face charges of money laundering over a $1.4 million donation by a U.S. philanthropist to his Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation in late 2010. Oskanian denies the charges, linking them to his and his party’s political activities.
“If substantiated, these allegations would mean a step backwards from the positive trend with regard to political normalization that we have witnessed over the last year and a half,” Fischer said in his statement, adding that he had also written to Armenian Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian asking him to clarify the charges, as well as the basis on which the parliament agreed to lift Oskanian’s immunity.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) head of the Armenian delegation to the PACE David Harutiunian, who represents the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said that the Assembly would have expressed its concern over such a development in any country. Harutiunian also argued that allegations voiced even by one party would have been enough to trigger such “concerns”.
“This is not an evaluation yet,” the HHK member emphasized.
Naira Zohrabian, a member of the Armenian delegation to the PACE representing the BHK, said she agreed with her pro-government colleague’s assessment that the statement by Fischer did not go beyond expressing concern. At the same time, she did not rule out that statements with stronger terms might follow if “the processes keep aggravating”.
“It is very important that our colleague from the Republican Party acknowledges this unlike our other colleagues who, for example, try to teach the United States envoy, reproach the PACE co-rapporteur, etc,” said Zohrabian, referring to the critical statement made earlier this week by HHK spokesman and Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov regarding U.S. Ambassador John Heffern’s comments on the Oskanian case.
Zohrabian said both Fischer and Heffern would not have made such statements if the process involving Oskanian was purely “legal”.
“It is clear that there is a serious political component here, and it is also clear that those who initiated this political farce should have seen this international backlash coming,” she said.