The National Security Service (NSS) released on Thursday more details of its controversial criminal case against Samvel Babayan, a retired army general close to an Armenian opposition alliance.
The NSS insisted that Babayan illegally acquired a shoulder-fired surface-to-air rocket system shortly before his arrest in March. In a long statement, it confirmed that he now stands accused of not only illegal arms possession and trafficking but also money laundering. Babayan denies the accusations.
Babayan, who was Nagorno-Karabakh’s top military commander from 1993-1993, was detained on March 21 hours after the NSS claimed to have confiscated the Russian-made Igla system. 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.
The NSS on Thursday again declined to clarify why the once powerful general allegedly sought to get hold of the sophisticated weapon. Its statement said only that the Igla system was transported to Karabakh and hidden near a local village after it was delivered by an Armenian national who was arrested in Georgia later in March. Babayan allegedly promised to pay $50,000 for the delivery.
According to the NSS statement, six other men are also prosecuted as part of the high-profile case. One of them, Sanasar Gabrielian is 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.
Gabrielian’s lawyer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) last month that his client only “wanted to acquire weapons for the Armenian army by legal means.” He said Gabrielian’s only wrongdoing was to “deal with other individuals who did not live up to his hopes.” The lawyer did not elaborate.