The lawyer for Samvel Babayan has denied prosecutors’ claim that the arrested opposition figure has admitted his involvement in an alleged smuggling of a shoulder-fired rocket to Armenia.
Babayan, who is unofficially affiliated with one of the main opposition contenders in the upcoming Armenian parliamentary elections, and two other individuals were formally charged with illegal arms possession and remanded in pre-trial custody late on Friday.
Babayan was arrested on Wednesday hours after Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated a Russian-made surface-to-air Igla system. The NSS alleged afterwards that the retired army general, who was Nagorno-Karabakh’s top military commander from 1993-1993, paid the two other suspects to smuggle the weapon from Georgia. The security agency has so far said nothing about the purpose of the alleged smuggling.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Saturday that during their first interrogations all three men denied the accusations levelled against them. At the same time, they “admitted their connection to the illegal trafficking of that ammunition and gave information about its circumstances,” it said without elaborating.
Babayan’s lawyer, Avetis Kalashian, described the prosecutors’ claim as a “peculiar interpretation” of his client’s testimony. “It is interpreted in a way which is beneficial for the prosecution,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I am naturally familiar with all testimonies and there are no confessions of guilt there.”
Babayan did not plead guilty to the accusations, stressed the lawyer.
Babayan is thought to have played an important, albeit unofficial, role in the ORO opposition alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and former Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian. They were quick to condemn his arrest as politically motivated and link it with the April 2 parliamentary elections.
The three opposition leaders again expressed their solidarity with Babayan at a news conference held on Monday. Ohanian described as the high-profile criminal case as “political persecution of both Samvel and our bloc,” challenging the authorities to publicize evidence of their claims. Babayan has “nothing to do with the alleged smuggling,” he said.
Some Armenian media outlets have cited unnamed government sources as alleging that Babayan plotted political assassinations or an armed rebellion against the government in the run-up to the elections.
Oskanian insisted that ORO supports only peaceful methods of political struggle against the government. “Our alliance has never encouraged and will not encourage use of force,” he said.
Last week, Oskanian heaped praise on the arrested members of an armed opposition group who seized a police base in Yerevan in a July 2016 attack that left three police officers dead. “I have regarded -- both then and now -- what they did on the political plane because it was a political action,” he said.