Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of Armenia’s second most important parliamentary party, has met Yerevan-based senior European diplomats and apparently discussed with them a controversial criminal case opened against one of his top allies ahead of a presidential election.
The meeting took place at the Yerevan premises of a liquor company owned by Tsarukian late on Tuesday and was reported the following day. It was attended by the ambassadors of several European Union member states and China as well as the heads of the EU Delegation and the OSCE office in Armenia.
“It was a planned meeting that consisted of two parts,” Ivetta Tonoyan, a spokeswoman for the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday. “The first part involved a tour [of company facilities] and the second one a meeting behind the closed doors.”
Tonoyan gave no details of that discussion. Asked whether the criminal charges leveled against Vartan Oskanian, a senior BHK figure and former foreign minister, were on the agenda, she said, “I can not make speculations because I do not have information.”
European diplomatic missions in Yerevan did not issue any statements on the meeting that came one week after Tsarukian’s separate conversation with John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia. In an ensuing statement, Heffern reiterated U.S. concerns over the fraud case against Oskanian, saying it “appears to represent a selective application of Armenian law.”
“We urge the government of Armenia to live up to its commitments to the systematic, fair and transparent implementation of the rule of law,” read the statement.
Oskanian was formally charged last week with misappropriating a $1.4 million donation that was made by a U.S. philanthropist to the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan-based think-tank set up by the ex-minister. He denies the charges as baseless and politically motivated.
The BHK leadership has likewise accused the Armenian authorities of fabricating the case to “persecute” Tsarukian’s party. The authorities deny any political motives, however.
Political commentators link the case with Armenia’s next presidential election due in February. Tsarukian and his party have been under government pressure to endorse President Serzh Sarkisian’s plans to win a second term in office.
The tycoon has still not clarified whether the BHK, which withdrew from the country’s governing coalition in June, will back Sarkisian’s reelection or field its own presidential candidate. Oskanian last week expressed readiness to run for president on the BHK ticket.
Tsarukian’s unusual contacts with foreign ambassadors prompted on Wednesday what looked like a warning from a senior lawmaker from Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“Every politician and political force is free to choose its path and course of action,” Hovannes Sahakian, the secretary of the HHK’s parliamentary faction told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “If we consider this period to be a pre-election process, then we all must be extremely careful and vigilant so that our actions do not damage this process in one way or another and do not work to the detriment of our state and people.”