Law-enforcement authorities have dropped corruption and tax evasion charges against the former chief bodyguard of ex-President Serzh Sarkisian nearly four months after he transferred 2.9 billion drams ($6 million) to the state.
Vachagan Ghazarian was arrested in June 2018 on charges of “illegal enrichment” and false asset disclosure shortly after the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian. The charges stemmed from his failure to declare to a state anti-corruption body more than $2.5 million in cash that was mostly held in his and his wife’s bank accounts.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said at the time that Ghazarian was obliged to do that in his capacity as deputy chief of a security agency providing bodyguards to Armenia’s leaders. It also accused him of tax evasion.
Ghazarian, who headed Sarkisian’s security detail for over two decades, was released from custody in July 2018 but arrested again in November 2018. A Yerevan court granted him bail one month later after he promised the hefty payout.
The SIS announced in October 2019 that Ghazarian and his wife Ruzanna Beglarian have completed the $6 million payment. A spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Marina Ohanjanian, said on Monday that they thus “fully compensated” the state for taxes evaded by them.
The SIS cited a much smaller sum when it accused a night club in Yerevan owned by the couple of tax evasion in 2018.
Ohanjanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that because of the payout Ghazarian and his wife will not stand trial for tax fraud. Investigators have also cleared them of illegal enrichment, she said.
According to Ghazarian’s lawyer, Armen Harutiunian, the SIS has acknowledged that an Armenian law on mandatory asset declarations by senior state officials does not apply to the once powerful former security official.
Citing a lack of evidence, the SIS also decided last week not to prosecute Ghazarian for extortion alleged by the night club’s former chief accountant. The latter claims that she was forced to pay Ghazarian 40 million drams ($84,000) for financial irregularities blamed on her.
Officers of Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) found $1.1 million and 230,000 euros in cash when they raided Ghazarian’s Yerevan apartment in June 2018. The NSS said he carried a further $120,000 and 436 million drams ($900,000) in a bag when he was caught outside a commercial bank in Yerevan a few days later.
Ghazarian claimed afterwards that most of the money found in his home and bank accounts belongs to his businessman friend living abroad.
In early 2019, the NSS secured an even heftier payout, worth $30 million, from Serzh Sarkisian’s indicted brother Aleksandr. The money was held in Aleksandr Sarkisian’s Armenian bank account frozen by the security service following the 2018 revolution.