Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) on Thursday brought corruption charges against a senior government official and political ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian who actively participated in last year’s “velvet revolution.”
The NSS said that Davit Sanasarian, the head of the State Oversight Service (SOS), will therefore be suspended pending investigation. But it decided not to arrest him for now.
Two senior officials from Sanasarian’s agency, which is tasked with combatting financial irregularities in the public sector, were arrested in late February. The NSS said they colluded with a private firm linked to them in order to personally benefit from government-funded supplies of medical equipment to three hospitals.
A senior executive of the firm, Zorashen, was also taken into custody. All three suspects denied the charges.
Sanasarian defended his arrested subordinates and protested their innocence at the time. He was subsequently questioned by NSS investigators.
In a statement, the NSS said that it has collected sufficient evidence to charge Sanasarian with an abuse of power aimed at benefiting the “company effectively managed by his subordinates.” The SOS chief will face up to four years in prison if convicted.
Sanasarian strongly denied any wrongdoing when he spoke to reporters several hours before the NSS’s announcement. “Nobody, no structure can link me with any corrupt practice because I reject any corrupt practice,” he said after attending a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
Sanasarian declined to comment on a news report that one of the arrested SOS officials, Samvel Adian, gave incriminating testimony against him. “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said. “But I can say one thing for certain: I could not have been involved in any corrupt deals. There can be no such evidence.”
Sanasarian also reiterated his concerns about the NSS investigation, saying that he has conveyed them to Pashinian. He stressed that he does not believe that the prime minister ordered the NSS to prosecute him for political reasons.
Sanasarian, 34, is a former opposition and civic activist who had for years challenged Armenia’s former government, accusing it of corruption and incompetence. He played a major role in the mass protests which brought Pashinian to power in May 2018. The latter named him to manage the SOS shortly after becoming prime minister.
Sanasarian ran in Armenia’s December 2018 parliamentary elections as a candidate of Pashinian’s My Step alliance.
The NSS claimed earlier that the arrested SOS officials arbitrarily forced medical institutions to rig rules for the choice of companies supplying expensive equipment for hemodialysis, a treatment of kidney failure. It said they wanted to make sure that “the business entity sponsored by them” wins tenders for such supplies.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on February 26 that he asked the NSS to investigate “external interference” in dialysis-related procurements because the new tender rules threatened to disrupt the vital medical services provided to around a thousand patients across the country.
The dialysis equipment tenders were until then won by a handful of private firms. Earlier in February, one of their owners accused Sanasarian of deliberately driving his Frezen company out of business. Sanasarian dismissed the allegations, saying that the SOS has simply broken up Frezen’s “monopoly” on supplies to one of the hospitals.