An Armenian law-enforcement agency has concluded a criminal investigation into former President Serzh Sarkisian, insisting that it had enough evidence to bring corruption charges strongly denied by him.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) indicted Sarkisian a month ago. It said that he “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.
The SIS claimed that Sarkisian interfered in a government tender for the fuel supplier to ensure that it is won by a company belonging to his longtime friend, rather than another fuel importer that offered a lower price. The ex-president rejected the accusation as politically motivated.
The SIS announced on Friday that it has completed the investigation and sent the high-profile case to prosecutors for formal approval. Such an endorsement would pave the way for Sarkisian’s trial on embezzlement charges carrying between five and eight years in prison.
Sarkisian’s lawyer, Amram Makinian, said he has already familiarized himself with materials of the case.
“The accusations are baseless, fabricated and aimed at subjecting Mr. Sarkisian to political persecution,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The case lacks relevant and credible evidence that can prove his alleged deeds.”
Makinian said the case is based on false incriminating testimony given by a single individual. He did not deny that that person is former Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian.
Karapetian and Sarkisian were reportedly brought face to face and interrogated by SIS investigators later in December. The former minister has still not made any public statements on the case.
Echoing statements by the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) still headed by Sarkisian, Makinian claimed that his client was prosecuted in retaliation for his public criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
The 65-year-old ex-president, who ruled Armenia from 2008-2018, 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. He had kept a low profile since resigning in April 2018 amid mass protests against his continued rule led by Pashinian.
Pashinian has repeatedly implicated Sarkisian, his family and political entourage in corruption both before and after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution.”
Some of Sarkisian’s relatives, cronies and political allies have also been prosecuted on corruption charges. One of his two brothers fled Armenia shortly before being indicted in June 2018.