An Armenian law-enforcement body has launched a criminal investigation into a former energy minister and mayor of Yerevan suspected of illegally privatizing municipal land.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on Wednesday that it has “factual data” suggesting that in 2008 then Mayor Yervand Zakharian made a “baseless and illegal” decision to sell a 10,000-square-meter green area to the owners of a luxury hotel.
The area was then part of Yerevan’s largest and most popular public park. It was “not subject to privatization,” the SIS said in a statement.
The SIS also said that the land was sold at a suspiciously low price of about 165 million drams ($346,000). It noted that the hotel owners subsequently used the plot as collateral for obtaining a commercial bank loan worth as much as 12 billion drams.
The statement added that the SIS is holding an investigation into abuse of power. It said investigators are taking necessary measures to “fully establish the circumstances of the matter and identify the guilty.”
A spokesperson for the law-enforcement body declined to clarify on Thursday whether Zakharian has already been formally charged or at least questioned as part of the probe. For his part, Zakharian did not answer phone calls.
Zakharian was Yerevan’s government-appointed mayor from 2003-2009. He went on to run the Armenian government’s Real Estate Cadaster Committee before being appointed as energy minister in 2014 by then President Serzh Sarkisian. He held that post until 2016.