The former executive director of a pan-Armenian charity headquartered in Yerevan was arrested late on Wednesday on fresh corruption charges rejected by his lawyers as politically motivated.
A court in Yerevan allowed the National Security Service (NSS) to hold Ara Vartanian in detention pending investigation into an alleged embezzlement of money donated to the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. The NSS did not publicize details of the criminal case.
One of Vartanian’s lawyers, Lusine Sahakian, described called the accusation “very odd” on Thursday. “He could not have had anything to do with that embezzlement because it is connected with supplies from one of the fund’s contractors,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The NSS already detained Vartanian in July 2018, saying that he used large amounts of money mostly donated by the Armenian Diaspora for online gambling and other “personal purposes.” He was released on bail and resigned as Hayastan’s director a few days later.
Sahakian and the other defense lawyer, Yervand Varosian, said that Vartanian was arrested again because of his increasingly harsh criticism of the current Armenian government voiced in recent months. The court’s refusal to grant him bail this time around is further proof that the case is politically motivated, Varosian wrote on his Facebook page. According to Sahakian, the court also ignored the former Hayastan chief’s “very serious” health problems.
The NSS did not immediately comment on the lawyers’ claims.
Hayastan has implemented over $350 million worth of projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh since being set up in 1992. The fund’s current Board of Trustees is headed by President Armen Sarkissian and comprises Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, other senior Armenian state officials, Catholicos Garegin II as well as prominent members of Armenian communities around the world.
In recent years the fund has partly financed, among other things, the construction of a second highway connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.