A former senior Armenian official who resigned last year after being accused of having secret offshore assets will stand in the forthcoming parliamentary elections as a candidate of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Mihran Poghosian, who ran a state body enforcing court rulings, is among election candidates nominated by the HHK leadership over the weekend in individual constituencies across Armenia. He will run in an electoral district in northern Yerevan that encompasses a neighborhood where he and his family have long been influential.
Citing leaked documents known as the Panama Papers, the Hetq.am investigative publication reported in April last year that Poghosian controls three shadowy companies registered in Panama. It said he has the exclusive right to manage Swiss bank accounts of two of those firms.
After his initial denials of the report, Poghosian announced his resignation later in April. Armenia’s Special Investigation Service (SIS) launched a criminal investigation shortly afterwards.
The SIS said late last month that it will not press criminal charges against Poghosian because it has found no evidence of his involvement in “illegal entrepreneurial activity.” It claimed to have requested relevant information from law-enforcement authorities in Panama and Switzerland as part of the probe.
However, the Swiss Federal Department of Justice reportedly said that that it turned down the Armenian request for legal assistance in November because it was not properly drawn up. A department spokeswoman told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international investigative organization, that "the Armenian authorities can any time specify the request."
The Armenian affiliate of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International suggested earlier this month that the SIS cleared Poghosian of any wrongdoing to possibly make it easier for him to run for parliament on the HHK ticket. It warned the ruling party against including him on its electoral slate.
Independent media outlets have for years accused Poghosian of having extensive business interests thanks to his government position and connections. The former official has also faced opposition allegations that a charity controlled by him bought votes for the HHK and President Sarkisian in Armenian presidential and parliamentary elections. Poghosian has always denied these claims.
Many wealthy members of Armenia’s outgoing parliament affiliated with the HHK have for years been dogged by similar allegations. The HHK has authorized most of them to run for reelection in constituencies where they typically reside and hold sway.
“We are already getting many reports that they have promised or have already started handing out lots of money [to voters,]” Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of the opposition Armenian National Congress, said on Monday.
“The system of vote buying seems to be getting ready for new achievements,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Zurabian and other opposition figures said the HHK’s continuing support for highly controversial figures like Poghosian makes mockery of political reforms promised by Sarkisian.
Speaking at a high-level HHK meeting a year ago, the president declared that a “new political culture has started taking hold in our country” following a disputed constitutional referendum held in December 2015.