Vigen Sargsian, a former Armenian defense minister and the opposition Republican Party’s top candidate in last year’s general elections, has not been charged with abuse of power despite criminal proceedings launched against him, his lawyer said on Friday.
The Investigative Committee claimed on September 25 that while in office Sargsian violated government rules for the distribution of government-funded housing to Armenian army officers and their families. It said it has “sufficient evidence” to indict him and will send the case to another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), for further investigation.
Sargsian, who now lives and studies in the United States, rejected the accusations as politically motivated.
The SIS, which is tasked with prosecuting serving and former senior officials, reportedly clarified afterwards that no criminal charges have been formally leveled against the former minister.
Sargsian’s lawyer, Amram Makinian, confirmed this when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Friday. He said the SIS has notified him in writing that “Mr. Sargsian is not prosecuted.”
Meanwhile, a prosecutor overseeing the controversial investigation ordered the SIS to send the case back to the Investigative Committee. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General said the committee must take additional “investigative and judicial actions.” She did not elaborate.
Makinian said this means that the prosecutors believe the case against his client is seriously flawed. The lawyer insisted that the corruption allegations made by the Investigative Committee “have nothing to do with reality.”
Sargsian, 44, worked as a top aide to former President Serzh Sarkisian before being appointed as defense minister in October 2016. He was widely regarded as the latter’s potential successor.
The former president was forced to resign in April 2018 amid nationwide anti-government street protests led by Nikol Pashinian. Vigen Sargsian stepped down immediately after Pashinian was elected prime minister in May 2018.
Sargsian was named the first deputy chairman of Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in November and topped the party’s list of candidates in the snap parliamentary elections held the following month. Pashinian’s My Step bloc won the polls by a landslide, while the HHK narrowly failed to clear a 5 percent vote threshold to enter Armenia’s new parliament.