Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has defended investigators that brought corruption charges against a senior Armenian government official and lambasted civic activists questioning the credibility of the high-profile probe.
In a weekend Facebook post, Pashinian said Davit Sanasarian, the suspended head of the State Oversight Service (SOS), cannot be immune to prosecution despite having played a major role in last year’s “velvet revolution” that brought him to power.
The National Security Service (NSS) indicted Sanasarian on Thursday as part of its ongoing investigation into allegedly corrupt practices in government-funded supplies of medical equipment to hospitals. It arrested two senior SOS officials in late February, saying that they attempted to cash in on those supplies.
According to the NSS, Sanasarian abused his powers to help his subordinates enrich themselves and a private company linked to them.
Sanasarian was quick to reject the charges as “fabricated.” Many of his supporters, among them leaders of some Western-funded non-governmental organizations, have defended him on social media, turning on the NSS and its influential director, Artur Vanetsian, in particular.
Pashinian hit back at the critics, saying that they place their personal relationships with Sanasarian above the rule of law.
“The ‘brotherly’ mindset has much deeper rules in Armenia than oligarchy and crime,” he wrote. “Even for civic activists and politicians, ‘brotherhood’ remains the main formula of worldview. They don’t give a damn about the truth …about the revolution and its values.”
“Davit is my friend too, but be aware that there are no untouchable persons in Armenia, whether they are in government or in opposition, revolutionaries or counterrevolutionaries,” he said.
Pashinian stressed that the law will be enforced “twice as strictly” against those who had spoken out against corruption but eventually “betrayed the people.” “Let a normal investigation be conducted,” he warned. “If you don’t, I will ensure that.”
Daniel Ioannisian, one of the activists critical of the corruption case, insisted that he and other sympathizers of Sanasarian do not have any personal motives. “We just see problems with the course of the investigation,” he said, adding that it is not objective.
Ioannisian said the probe was launched after Sanasarian’s agency tried to address a suspicious lack of competition in the choice of medical supplies.
Sanasarian’s lawyer, Inessa Petrosian, claimed, for her part, that the criminal case against the 34-year-old official and former activist is based on “false testimony” given to the NSS by his subordinates. Petrosian said her client is prosecuted because he combatted corrupt practices in the healthcare sector.
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 a company controlled 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 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.