Samvel Babayan, a prominent opposition figure, urged a court in Yerevan on Thursday to release him from custody pending an investigation into the alleged smuggling of a shoulder-fired rocket to Armenia.
Babayan was arrested last month 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 two other men to smuggle the weapon from Georgia. He denies the accusation.
The arrest came about two weeks before Armenia’s parliamentary elections. Babayan is unofficially affiliated with the opposition ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and two other opposition politicians. ORO condemned the criminal case as politically motivated. Babayan’s lawyer, Avetis Kalashian, has refrained from describing his client as a political detainee, however.
“I still have no grounds to call this case political, Kalashian told reporters on Thursday.
The lawyer spoke to them after Armenia’s Court of Appeals held a hearing on his petition to release his client from pre-trial detention. Babayan also attended and spoke at the hearing.
In the lawyer’s words, the once powerful general told the court that he will not flee the country if he is set free. “He said: ‘Who and why should I flee? What did I do to flee?’ He naturally thinks that his arrest is unfounded and asked the court to make a fair decision,” revealed Kalashian.
A prosecutor present at the hearing objected to Babayan’s release. The court is due to rule on the petition on Friday.