A court in Yerevan on Monday refused to release Samvel Babayan, a retired army general linked to the Armenian opposition, from custody pending a verdict in his ongoing trial on controversial charges of illegal arms possession.
Babayan offered to post bail or sign a written pledge not to leave the city. The presiding judge said he could obstruct justice, pressurize witnesses or even go into hiding if set free. He also refused to lift a freeze on Babayan’s assets imposed by law-enforcement authorities.
Babayan, who was Nagorno-Karabakh’s top military commander from 1993-1999, was detained in March 21 hours after Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated a shoulder-fired rocket system commissioned by him. The NSS says that he promised to pay $50,000 to another man who delivered the sophisticated weapon. It has still not clarified, however, why the once powerful general allegedly sought to get hold of the Russian-made Igla system.
Babayan, who also stands accused of money laundering, on Monday again strongly denied the charges levelled against him after a trial prosecutor read out the official indictment. “I cannot confess to a crime which I didn’t commit,” he told the court. He dismissed the criminal case as a “collection of presumptions,” saying that the authorities are simply keen to jail him at any cost.
Babayan’s arrest came about two weeks before parliamentary elections. Babayan was unofficially affiliated with one of their opposition contenders: the ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and two other prominent politicians. ORO condemned the criminal case as politically motivated.
Babayan is standing trial along with six other men. One of them, Sanasar Gabrielian is his longtime friend. Gabrielian too is accused of illegal arms possession, a charge partly accepted by him.
Gabrielian’s lawyer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in June that his client only “wanted to acquire weapons for the Armenian army by legal means.” The lawyer did not elaborate.