Former Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian has been charged with “exceeding official authorities” and “Illegally participating in entrepreneurial activity” as part of a criminal probe into a claim by an entrepreneur that his business was snatched from him a decade ago.
The Special Investigation Service told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Saturday that Abrahamian was not taken into custody after pledging not to leave the country pending investigation.
The Investigation Committee of Armenia earlier said that Abrahamian is suspected of abusing his powers in 2008 by allegedly forcing a businessman to give up a majority stake in a mining company that later went to other people, including the former prime minister’s brother Henrikh Abrahamian.
Witnesses in the case, according to the report, among the people involved in the alleged abuse also named former police chief and current lawmaker Alik Sargsian, who is linked with the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Today’s official information makes no mention of Abrahamian’s connection to the 2008 post-election events.
On August 9, law-enforcement authorities launched a probe into Abrahamian’s possible involvement in the breakup of opposition protests staged in Yerevan following a disputed presidential election a decade ago.
The National Security Service then arrested Abrahamian’s brother Henrik after raiding a former industrial plant effectively owned by Hovik Abrahamian. It claimed to have found a weapons cache there and said the arsenal would be verified on its possible use against opposition protesters on March 1-2, 2008.
In a separate statement, the security agency said it arrested Henrik Abrahamian and the property’s formal owner, Ambik Gevorgian, on suspicion of illegal arms possession.
In a Facebook post on September 8 the former prime minister denounced his prosecution describing it as a manhunt. Abrahamian said that no illegal items were found by law-enforcement bodies during searches at the legal address where he is registered and in the home where he actually lives. He claimed he did not have anything to do with the property where security officials found the weapons. “First, they publicly tried to connect that place with me and then the weapons found there with the March 1-2, 2008 events. It is clear that I was the target of this series of distortions,” he claimed.
Abrahamian linked the charges brought against him with his September 4 interview to a local news website in which, he said, he criticized the actions of the authorities. “Immediately after that they pressed ungrounded charges against me… with the purpose of silencing any dissidence,” he claimed.
“The manhunt and pressure on free speech and dissidence that are being carried out by the Armenian authorities will not lead to any good place,” Abrahamian warned.
Abrahamian’s case is the latest in a series of prosecutions against former government officials launched by Armenian law-enforcement authorities in the wake of the April-May change of power in the South Caucasus country.
Nikol Pashinian, who came to power as prime minister in the wake of large-scale anti-government protests led by him, has vowed to stamp out corruption, monopolies and to deal with other crimes that he believes have not been detected under the previous governments.
As part of a reopened criminal probe into 2008 post-election violence that left 10 people dead Armenia’s then president Robert Kocharian and several other former officials have already been charged with “overthrowing the constitutional order.”
Several members of the extended family of Serzh Sarkisian, who succeeded Kocharian in 2008 but was forced by the Pashinian-led movement to resign earlier this year, are also under investigation in connection with different crimes, including an attempted murder and illegal enrichment.
Abrahamian, 60, held high-ranking state posts and developed extensive business interests during Kocharian’s and Sarkisian’s tenures. He managed Sarkisian’s 2008 and 2013 presidential election campaigns before being appointed as Armenia’s prime minister in April 2014.
Abrahamian, who also served as Armenia’s parliament speaker in 2008-2011 and 2012-2014, fell out with Sarkisian a few months after being sacked by the latter as head of the government in September 2016. He left Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia in January 2017 and has kept a low profile since then.