Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a six-year prison sentence handed down to Samvel Babayan, a retired army general prosecuted on charges of illegal arms acquisition and money laundering which he strongly denies.
It also rejected the appeals of two other suspects in the high-profile case who were sentenced by a district court in Yerevan to three and two years in prison in November.
Babayan was arrested in March 2017 after Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated a surface-to-air rocket system. The arrest came about two weeks before Armenia’s last parliamentary elections. Babayan was unofficially affiliated with the ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and two other opposition politicians. ORO condemned the criminal case as politically motivated.
Babayan has since repeatedly denied prosecutors’ claims that he promised to pay other defendants, notably his longtime associate Sanasar Gabrielian, $50,000 for the delivery of the shoulder-fired Igla rocket.
Gabrielian, who received the three-year prison sentence, insisted during their trial that it was he who commissioned the confiscated Igla. He claimed that he wanted to donate it to Nagorno-Karabakh’s army.
Both defendants appealed against the guilty verdict handed down by the lower court. They and the third suspect, Armen Poghosian, said they must be acquitted on all counts.
“This is a fabricated case,” Babayan told the Court of Appeals on Monday. He reiterated that he only advised Gabrielian to hoard the sophisticated weapon in a remote Karabakh village and then confidentially tip off a military official in Stepanakert.
A trial prosecutor insisted, for his part, that the investigators have substantiated their accusations levelled against Babayan and the other defendants. Purported evidence presented by them includes a short segment of a wiretapped telephone conversation between Babayan and Gabrielian.
Babayan said that his secretly recorded remarks were “taken out of context.” He earlier petitioned the court to have the prosecutors publicize full audio of the phone call. The court refused to do that.
Babayan, 52, led Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army from 1993-1999 and was widely regarded as the unrecognized republic’s most powerful man at that time. He was arrested in 2000 and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly masterminding a botched attempt on the life of the then Karabakh president, Arkady Ghukasian. He was set free in 2004.
Babayan criticized the current authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert after returning to Armenia in May 2016 from Russia where he lived for five years.