Former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) expressed concern on Friday about a corruption investigation launched into a municipal fund overseen by Yerevan’s HHK-affiliated Mayor Taron Markarian.
Ashot Ghazarian, the executive director of the Yerevan Fund, and Khachatur Kirakosian, the deputy head of the city’s Davitashen district, were arrested on Thursday as part of the investigation conducted by the National Security Service (NSS).
The arrests came the day after NSS officers searched the offices of the Yerevan Fund located in the main municipal administration building. An NSS statement said two individuals were recently forced to make hefty payments to the charity in return for receiving construction permits from the mayor’s office.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, criticized the NSS raid witnessed by journalists, saying that it was too demonstrative. “At least the form of the NSS actions was not proportionate,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We are not saying that documents must not be confiscated or that the municipality or any other body must not be investigated … We just believe that could have been done a bit more discreetly,” he said.
“We don’t exclude political motives [behind the probe,]” added the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament.
Asked whether the former ruling party fears that the NSS is targeting Markarian, Sharmazanov said: “The investigation will show.”
The Yerevan mayor, who heads the fund’s board of trustees, is a senior member of the HHK. He came under strong pressure to step down after mass protests led by Nikol Pashinian, Armenia’s current prime minister, forced Sarkisian to resign in late April.
Even before the change of government, senior members of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party alleged that the municipal administration may be extorting illegal payments to the Yerevan Fund from businesses or citizens. Two of those politicians, Arayik Harutiunian and Lena Nazarian, sued the fund in March after it refused to disclose its donors.
Harutiunian, who was appointed as Armenia’s education minister last month, defended the NSS probe on Friday. “I think that law-enforcement bodies acted within the framework of their powers,” he said.