A high-ranking officer who has long led former President Serzh Sarkisian’s security detail was remanded in custody on Thursday three days after being arrested on corruption charges.
A court in Yerevan allowed Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) to keep Vachagan Ghazarian in detention pending investigation stemming from more than $2 million worth of cash confiscated from him.
The SIS on Wednesday formally charged him will illegally enriching himself and failing to disclose the bulk of his massive assets to a state anti-corruption body.
Ghazarian was detained on Monday five days after police raided his apartment in Yerevan and found $1.1 million and 230,000 euros ($267,000) in cash there.
The National Security Service (NSS), which made the arrest, said Ghazarian carried $120,000 and 436 million drams ($900,000) in a bag when he was caught outside a commercial bank in Yerevan. It said Ghazarian claimed that he was going to give the money to its “real owner” but refused to identify that person.
According to an NSS statement, Ghazarian was also planning to withdraw 1.5 billion drams ($3.1 million) kept by him and his wife at another Armenian bank. He claimed that he “forgot” to add these sums to his official income declarations, added the statement.
Such declarations are mandatory for Armenia’s high-ranking state officials and their close relatives. Ghazarian, who has the rank of NSS general, was among them until Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian dismissed him last month as first deputy head of a security agency providing bodyguards to the country’s leaders.
Detailing the accusations levelled against Ghazarian, the SIS argued that the cash seized from him “substantially exceeds his legal revenues.” It portrayed this as clear proof that he “illegally enriched himself.”
It is not clear whether or not Ghazarian will plead guilty to the accusations carrying between two and six years in prison. His lawyers made no statements and did not even publicize their names as of Thursday afternoon.
Ghazarian is the first person in Armenia prosecuted on such charges. He worked as Sarkisian’s chief bodyguard for more than two decades. The ex-president has not yet commented on the corruption case against one of his most trusted individuals.
Armenia’s new government has been instrumental in a series of high-profile corruption inquiries launched against former officials. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly pledged to “root out” endemic corruption in the country since he swept to power about two months ago.