Law-enforcement authorities have not charged anyone yet more than one month after launching an investigation into a secretly recorded audio suggesting that employees of a pro-government businessman were warned to help him get reelected to Armenia’s parliament or lose their jobs.
The recording posted on Hayastan24.com features the voice of a man threatening to fire those employees of Artak Sargsian’s SAS supermarket chain in Yerevan who have failed to guarantee in writing that their friends and relatives will vote for their boss. The man also promises lavish bonuses to their colleagues who will “bring votes” to the candidate of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The news website said that the SAS staff meeting took place in the run-up to the April 2 parliamentary elections won by the HHK. Sargsian, who was reelected to the National Assembly, has since refused to comment on the audio and the resulting political scandal.
Opposition politicians and other critics of the Armenian government seized upon the revelation as further proof that public and private sector employees across the country were illegally pressurized to vote for the HHK. In an April 3 statement, European election monitors likewise reported “pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies”
Responding to the uproar, Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on April 19 that it has opened a criminal case in connection with the scandalous audio.
An SIS spokesperson told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday that the law-enforcement agency is still questioning relevant individuals and has not levelled criminal charges against anyone so far. The official refused to give any details of the investigation.
Civic activists dismissed this explanation. Heriknaz Tigranian, a legal expert with the Armenian affiliate of Transparency International, insisted that the SIS has had enough time to identify the secretly recorded individuals. “They know how to conduct forensic tests to identify people’s voices,” she said.
Tigranian said she suspects that the authorities are dragging out the probe with the aim of eventually closing the case for a supposed lack of evidence.
“Had the authorities had the political will to solve such organized crimes, Artak Sargsian would not have run for parliament in the first place,” charged Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist.
According to the Hetq.am investigative publication, the man who purportedly threatened to fire SAS employees is Sargsian’s elder brother Aram.