Vazgen Khachikian, the arrested former head of Armenia’s state pension fund, was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in prison on Monday.
A court in Yerevan also found 12 other former employees of the State Social Security Service (SSSS) guilty of embezzling, together with Khachikian, 300 million drams($680,000) in public funds allocated for the payment of various social benefits. Four of them were jailed for 4 to 5 years, while the others received suspended prison sentences.
In addition, the court ruled that Khachikian, 42, must pay the state 170 million drams in compensation for the alleged pension fraud.
Khachikian and two of his former high-ranking subordinates were arrested in September 2012 in a nationwide criminal investigation into allegedly widespread corruption within the SSSS. The Armenian police launched the probe in 2011 shortly after the parliamentary 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.
Khachikian, who is a prominent member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), has denied the fraud and embezzlement charges throughout his trial that began in early 2013. His lawyer, Zhora Varosian, denounced the guilty verdict handed down by the court as “totally unfounded” and said we will appeal it.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Varosian would not say whether he and his client think that there are political motives behind the case. He did say, though, that the harsh prison sentence suggests that some individuals are interested in Khachikian’s lengthy imprisonment. The lawyer declined to name them.
Khachikian’s arrest came about two weeks after President Serzh Sarkisian mentioned the former pension fund chief as he publicly accused the Armenian government of tolerating widespread corruption in the administration of state procurements.
More than 50 officials have been prosecuted since then. Four of them, who ran the SSSS branch in Gyumri, were sentenced to between 3 and 4 fours in prison earlier this year.