Former Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian denied through a lawyer on Friday corruption accusations brought against him by an Armenian law-enforcement body.
The lawyer, Karen Hakobian, said that Harutiunian has not fled Armenia but refused to shed more light on his whereabouts after a Yerevan court issued an arrest warrant for him. Nor did Hakobian say whether his client will surrender to the Special Investigative Service (SIS) following the court’s decision.
The SIS formally charged Harutiunian on Thursday with receiving $14 million in bribes while in office in 2008. It reiterated prosecutors’ recent allegations that an Armenian businesswoman, Silva Hambardzumian, paid the bribes in return for obtaining a dozen mining licenses from the Ministry of Environment Protection.
Hambardzumian made the same claims when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in late October.
Hakobian dismissed the charges as “nonsensical.” “Those licenses were never of any use to anyone,” he said, adding that nobody would have paid millions of dollars for the right to search for, rather than mine, metals in several potential deposits in Armenia.
“I think that the investigation will continue and these accusations will be refuted,” the lawyer told journalists.
Hakobian also said that the former minister was not allowed to travel abroad recently, before being indicted by the SIS. “Mr. Harutiunian wanted to leave the country for the purpose of his wife’s medical treatment but his departure was illegally blocked at the border checkpoint [of Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport,]” he said.
Harutiunian served as environment minister from 2007-2014 and was elected to the Armenian parliament in 2017 on then President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party’s ticket. The prosecutors attempted to arrest him in early December. The outgoing parliament, in which the Republicans had the largest group, declined to lift Harutiunian’s immunity from prosecution.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian clearly referred to Harutiunian when he stated in late October that law-enforcement authorities have all but solved the largest ever known case of bribery in Armenia’s history.