Law-enforcement authorities have brought criminal charges against a town mayor linked to the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) nine months after he defeated a government-backed challenger in a tense local election.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday that Mayor Vahagn Gevorgian of Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, has been charged with criminal negligence and will risk up to five years in prison if convicted.
In a statement, it claimed that he that he deliberately failed to stop a private company from “seizing” communal land in Abovian and illegally constructing an apartment block there. It was not immediately clear whether Gevorgian, who was apparently not arrested, will deny the accusation.
The statement said that the Investigative Committee decided to indict Gevorgian even though a regional department of the Armenian police investigated the redevelopment project and cleared the mayor of any wrongdoing last year. It said Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian personally ordered a new investigation in October because the police inquiry was “flawed.”
The police inquiry was ordered by regional prosecutors in July 2019, one month after Gevorgian narrowly won reelection in a tightly contested mayoral race. His main challenger, Grigor Gulian, was a candidate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.
Pashinian travelled to Abovian and held a rally there in support of Gulian during the election campaign. Romanos Melikian, the Civil Contract-affiliated governor of the surrounding Kotayk province, also personally campaigned for Gulian after taking a leave of absence for that purpose.
The provincial administration had for months been at loggerheads with the Abovian municipality, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement. The mayor strongly denied the allegations. Armenia’s National Security Service launched a separate corruption inquiry into the municipality just days before the mayoral election.
Abovian has long been a political and economic stronghold of BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian. Tensions between his party and Civil Contract ran high in the run-up to the vote.
Although the BHK did not officially endorse Gevorgian, Tsarukian’s right-hand man, Eduard Babayan, and other senior BHK figures actively participated in the incumbent’s reelection campaign.
The BHK, which has the second largest group in the Armenian parliament, did not react to the charges brought against the Abovian mayor as of Monday evening.