A Russian lawyer apparently representing Mihran Poghosian, a former senior Armenian official facing corruption charges in Armenia, on Thursday did not deny reports that he has applied for political asylum in Russia.
Poghosian was arrested in the northern Russian region of Karelia late last week just days after being indicted by an Armenian law-enforcement body. A local court reportedly allowed the Russian police to hold him in detention for up to 40 days, pending a decision on his extradition to Armenia demanded by Armenian prosecutors.
News reports said on Wednesday that Poghosian, who denies the corruption charges as politically motivated, has asked Russian authorities to grant him asylum.
Mikhail Yamchitsky, the head of Karelia’s bar association described by Russian media as Poghosian’s lawyer, refused to confirm or refute those reports. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone, Yamchitsky said he is not allowed to comment on the matter.
Under Russian law, political asylum can only be granted by President Vladimir Putin. Russia’s Interior Ministry can recommend such decisions after consulting with the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Security Service.
Armenian investigators claim that the 42-year-old Poghosian embezzled at least 64.2 million drams ($132,000) in public funds when he ran a state agency enforcing court rulings from 2008-2016. They also accuse him of giving privileged treatment to a real estate valuation firm that was contracted by the Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) in 2014.
The firm was allegedly a subsidiary of shadowy companies set up by Poghosian in Panama in 2011. Citing leaked documents widely known as the Panama Papers, an Armenian investigative website reported in April 2016 that Poghosian controls three such companies registered in the Central American state.
Poghosian dismissed the report. Nevertheless, he resigned as SMEJA chief shortly afterwards despite continuing to deny any wrongdoing. A year later, he was elected to the former Armenian parliament on the ticket of ex-President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party.