Law-enforcement authorities brought on Wednesday corruption charges against Serzh Sarkisian, Armenia’s former president toppled during last year’s “Velvet Revolution.”
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) alleged that Sarkisian “organized the embezzlement by a group of officials” of 489 million drams (just over $1 million) in government funds allocated in 2013 for the provision of subsidized diesel fuel to farmers.
In a statement, the SIS said that Sarkisian interfered in a government tender for the fuel supplier to ensure that it is won by Flash, a company which has long been one of Armenia’s main fuel importers. Flash is owned by Barsegh Beglarian, a businessman believed to have had close ties to the 65-year-old ex-president.
The government paid Flash over 1.8 billion drams ($3.8 million) as part of the scheme designed to help tens of thousands of low-income farmers across the country. According to the SIS statement, another private company, Maxhur, was ready to supply the same quantity of diesel fuel at a lower price which would have allowed the government to save 489 million drams.
The SIS said that the government’s failure to pick Maxhur amounted to a deliberate embezzlement of public funds ordered by Sarkisian.
The law-enforcement agency stopped short of arresting the man who ruled Armenia from 2008-2018. It said it had him sign a formal pledge not to leave the country pending investigation.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) rejected the accusation, carrying between four and eight years in prison, as “fabricated and ludicrous.”
“We regard the accusation leveled against Serzh Sarkisian as a blatant manifestation of solely political persecution,” read a statement released by the HHK’s governing body headed by him. “This process is aimed at silencing political opponents against the background of dangers threatening Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).”
The former ruling party also claimed with such high-profile criminal cases the current authorities want to “deflect the Armenian people’s attention” from grave challenges facing the country.
Sarkisian has kept a low profile since resigning in April 2018 amid mass protests against his continued rule led by Nikol Pashinian, the current Armenian prime minister.
The ex-president claimed to be not afraid of being arrested in rare comments to selected journalists made in late October. He accused Pashinian’s government of jeopardizing democracy and stifling dissent in a November 20 speech at a congress of the European People’s Party held in Croatia.
Some of Sarkisian’s relatives, cronies and political allies have been prosecuted on corruption charges since his ouster. Also, his predecessor and erstwhile ally, Robert Kocharian, was arrested in July 2018 on coup and bribery charges which he rejects as politically motivated.
The HHK has also alleged political motives behind most of these high-profile cases. The authorities deny that. They claim to have already eradicated “systemic” government corruption which they say was one of the main foundations of Sarkisian’s regime.