Police in Georgia have arrested an Armenian citizen wanted by law-enforcement authorities in Yerevan in connection with their criminal case against Samvel Babayan, an Armenian opposition figure arrested last week.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said the 40-year-old man identified by it as Robert A. was detained in Tbilisi on Monday on an Armenian arrest warrant relating to the alleged smuggling of a shoulder-fired missile system to Armenia.
Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated a Russian-made surface-to-air Igla missile along with its launcher hours before announcing Babayan’s arrest on March 22. It said that Babayan, who is a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army, paid two other arrested suspects to smuggle the weapon from or through Georgia.
All three men were charged under corresponding articles of the Armenian Criminal Code late last week. Armenian prosecutors said they denied the accusations but “admitted their connection to the illegal trafficking.”
Babayan’s lawyer, Avetis Kalashian, dismissed the latter claim as a “peculiar interpretation” of his client’s testimony. Kalashian went on to declare on Monday that the once powerful general does not consider himself a political prisoner despite rejecting the accusations.
Babayan is widely regarded as an unofficial leader of the ORO alliance, one of the main opposition contenders in Armenia’s April 2 parliamentary elections. ORO leaders have condemned his arrest as politically motivated, saying that the authorities are thus trying to weaken their bloc.
Some Armenian media outlets have cited unnamed government sources as alleging that Babayan plotted political assassinations or an armed rebellion against the government on the eve of the elections. ORO representatives have brushed aside those claims.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry did not immediately clarify when the arrested man will be extradited to Armenia. Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili said earlier that his ministry is cooperating with Armenian law-enforcement authorities in their investigation into the alleged smuggling.