Armenian law-enforcement authorities will not prosecute anyone in connection with a secretly recorded audio suggesting that employees of a pro-government businessman were warned to help him get reelected to parliament or lose their jobs, it emerged on Friday.
The recording was posted on Hayastan24.com in the wake of the April 2 parliamentary elections. It 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 President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The website said that the SAS staff meeting took place in the run-up to the elections won by the HHK. Sargsian, who earned the party 12,000 votes and was reelected to the National Assembly, has since refused to comment on the audio.
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 under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with coercion of voters by means of threats, intimidation or bribes.
A spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Marina Ohanjanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the case has been closed for lack of evidence of such a crime. She did not comment further.
According to the Hetq.am investigative publication, the man who threatened to fire SAS employees is Sargsian’s elder brother Aram. The Hetq editor, Edik Baghdasarian, said SIS investigators never asked him to explain how his media outlet identified the man.
For her part, Yeva Adamian, the Hayastan24.com editor, said she received recently a letter from the SIS asking for more information about the scandalous recording. Adamian said although she did not refuse to cooperate with the investigators they did not make further inquiries.
“It’s a cover-up,” she charged. “I’m sure that it was ordered from the presidential administration. Serzh Sarkisian decided that there is no need make noise and that one of his protégés must be a parliament deputy.”
It is not clear whether the HHK-affiliated tycoon or his brother have been questioned by the SIS. Hetq’s Baghdasarian suggested that the SIS only imitated a probe into the audio.
Varuzhan Hoktanian, the program coordinator at the Armenian branch of Transparency International, was not surprised by the SIS’s decision not to press charges against anyone. “If a particular force’s victory is to be ensured [at any cost] and that force is the ruling party, then such methods are not punishable for them,” he said. “They would have been punishable if they had been used by the opposition.”