Law-enforcement authorities have somewhat reduced criminal charges levelled against Samvel Babayan, a retired army general close to an Armenian opposition alliance who was controversially arrested in March.
Babayan’s lawyer, Avetis Kalashian, revealed on Tuesday that he no longer stands accused of smuggling weapons into Armenia. He is only facing accusations of illegal arms “circulation” and money laundering, Kalashian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Kalashian did not elaborate, promising to comment on the case in detail later on.
Babayan will risk up to 11 years in prison if found guilty of the revised charges. The initial criminal case against him carried up to 13 years’ imprisonment.
Babayan was arrested on March 21 hours after Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated a Russian-made surface-to-air rocket system. The NSS alleged afterwards that the once powerful general, who was Nagorno-Karabakh’s top military commander from 1993-1993, paid two other men to smuggle the shoulder-fired Igla systems from Georgia.
The arrest came about two weeks before Armenia’s parliamentary elections. Babayan was 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.
Kalashian said that his client continues to insist on his innocence. The lawyer also said that the criminal investigation into the case has been completed, meaning that Babayan will go on trial soon.
The only other arrested suspect in the case is Sanasar Gabrielian, a longtime friend of Babayan’s who also actively participated in the Karabakh war. He too is accused of illegal arms possession, a charge partly accepted by him.
“He wanted to acquire weapons for the army by legal means,” said Gabrielian’s lawyer, Karapet Aghajanian. He said his client’s only wrongdoing was to “deal with other individuals who did not live up to his hopes.” The lawyer did not elaborate.
Later in March, police in Georgia arrested an Armenian citizen wanted by the law-enforcement authorities in Yerevan as part of the same smuggling case. It emerged on Tuesday that the man identified as Robert A. has not been extradited to Armenia yet. The Office of Prosecutor-General claimed that the Georgian authorities have still not responded to an Armenian extradition demand.