A senior law-enforcement official dismissed on Friday defense lawyers’ claims that corruption charges leveled against former President Serzh Sarkisian are politically motivated.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) indicted Sarkisian in early December. 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, businessman Barsegh Beglarian, rather than another fuel importer that offered a lower price. It also charged Barseghian and three former government officials during the investigation completed two weeks ago. All five suspects deny the accusations.
In a statement released earlier this week, Sarkisian’s lawyers insisted that the accusations are baseless and are part of his “political persecution” by the current Armenian authorities.
Artashes Mayilian, a senior SIS official who led the probe, dismissed those claims as a mere defense tactic. “I have still not heard … any clarifications as to what exactly makes the case political,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Mayilian also disputed the lawyers’ assertion that Sarkisian enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution. “As it stands, the former president of Armenia does not have the right to immunity in connection with that particular deed,” he said.
The high-profile case is reportedly based on former Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian’s incriminating testimony against the ex-president. Karapetian and his former deputy Samvel Galstian are among the five suspects in the case.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has also condemned the charges as politically motivated. It says that the ex-president is prosecuted in retaliation for his public criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Sarkisian, who ruled Armenia from 2008-2018, accused Pashinian’s government of jeopardizing democracy and stifling dissent in a November 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 Pashinian-led mass protests against his continued rule.
Pashinian has repeatedly implicated Sarkisian, his family and political entourage in corruption both before and after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution.”