Armenia’s parliament on Tuesday allowed law-enforcement authorities to prosecute one of its members, retired General Manvel Grigorian, and to keep him in pre-trial detention on charges of illegal arms possession and embezzlement.
Grigorian, who represents former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in the parliament, was arrested on Saturday immediately after security forces raided his expensive properties in and around the town of Echmiadzin. They claimed to have found illegally acquired weapons and stockpiles of food and other supplies meant for Armenian army soldiers.
The HHK initially condemned Grigorian’s arrest as politically motivated and demanded his release. But it swiftly changed its stance after the National Security Service (NSS) released on Sunday an extremely embarrassing video of searches conducted in the ex-general’s villas.
The televised footage caused widespread shock and anger in the country. It showed NSS officers discovering large amounts of underwear, medication and field rations for soldiers provided by the Armenian Defense Ministry as well as other food donated by ordinary Armenians at a sprawling compound in Grigorian’s native village, Arshaluys.
The NSS claimed that he used the canned food to feed tigers, bears and other wild animals kept in his private zoo located inside the compound. It also demonstrated various types of weaponry, including anti-tank guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and ammunition allegedly stashed there.
The HHK called the revelations “outrageous” and said it will not hamper the criminal proceedings. Its parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, explained on Tuesday that the NSS video “totally changed the situation.”
Voting twice in secret ballot, the parliament overwhelmingly sanctioned Grigorian’s arrest and prosecution.Only three members of the 105-seat National Assembly voted against that. Seventy-seven others voted for allowing law-enforcement authorities to keep him behind bars pending investigation.
Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian assured lawmakers before the votes that there is sufficient evidence to press the criminal charges against the prominent veteran of the 1991-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The vote was also preceded by angry speeches delivered by several parliamentarians. Naira Zohrabian of the Tsarukian Bloc charged that Grigorian is an “ordinary thief” who benefited from “years of lawlessness” at the behest of the Sarkisian administration.
“There are many Manvel Grigorians in our county and they all must be held accountable,” she said.
“This is really a disgrace and blasphemy,” said Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “We need to seriously think about eliminating consequences of that.”
Grigorian himself refused to show up for the debate on his fate. In an open letter released on Monday, he urged the HHK’s parliamentary faction to give the green light to his prosecution. He said he will prove his innocence and “clear my name” during the investigation.
Grigorian, 61, served as Armenia’s deputy defense minister from 2000-2008. He is also the chairman of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans, an organization which was particularly influential in the 1990s and the early 2000s. He was reelected to the parliament on the HHK ticket in 2017.