The arrested former head of Armenia’s state pension fund denies any role in large-scale fraud in the payment of various social benefits alleged by law-enforcement authorities, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Vazgen Khachikian, who managed the State Social Security Service (SSSS) until December 2010, and two of his former high-ranking subordinates were arrested in late September. They were charged with embezzling 240.7 million drams ($590,000) and are facing between 4 and 8 years in prison.
Khachikian’s lawyer, Zhora Varosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that his client considers himself innocent and will plead not guilty to the accusations. Varosian said he has refused to give testimony so far but is ready to answer police investigators’ questions later on.
Khachikian, who is a prominent member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), was sacked two years ago shortly after the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber alleged that thousands of pensioners received, on paper, pensions years after their death. The chamber reported similar abuses in the payment of poverty and disability benefits.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General found these claims credible in May 2011, assigning the Armenian police to open a criminal case. According to the law-enforcement agency, about 40 persons have been charged in the ensuing police investigation. Ten of them, including Khachikian, are now in jail.
Khachikian’s arrest came about two weeks after President Serzh Sarkisian mentioned the 40-year-old as he publicly accused the Armenian government of tolerating what he described as widespread corruption in state procurements. The criticism was followed by a series of corruption inquiries and arrests of former and serving government officials. Some observers linked the crackdown with the upcoming presidential election in which Sarkisian will be seeking a second term in office.
According to Varosian, Khachikian sees no political reasons for his arrest and prosecution.