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Former Defense Chief Risks Fresh Charges


Armenia -- Former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian speaks to reporters, Yerevan, March 3, 2020.

Former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian could be indicted in an ongoing criminal investigation into a 2010 privatization deal which Armenian law-enforcement autorities say cost the state millions of dollars in losses.

DzoraHEK, a medium-sized hydroelectric plant located in Armenia’s northen Lori province, was sold by former President Serzh Sarkisian’s government to a private company for 3.6 billion drams ($7.5 million).

Citing a police inquiry, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General claimed in May last year that the sell-off price was set well below DzoraHEK’s market value estimated by a government agency at around 8 billion drams ($16.8 million). It said it has assigned another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), to investigate the “substantial damage” caused to on the state.

The SIS announced late on Monday that it now considers Ohanian a suspect in the case because the hydroelectric plant belonged to the Armenian Defense Ministry prior to its privatization. It said that the deal was proposed by the ministry.

Ohanian, who served as defense minister from 2008-2016, categorically denied this on Tuesday. He insisted that it was the now defunct Energy Ministry that negotiated with the buyer and proposed the terms of the deal to the government.

“The privatization process was mainly carried out by the Energy Ministry,” Ohanian told reporters.

The plant was handed over to the Defense Ministry in 2001 one year after Serzh Sarkisian was appointed as defense minister. He held that post until 2007.

Some media outlets suggested in 2010 that the plant’s new owner, an offshore-registered firm called Dzoraget Hydro, is controlled by Miakel Minasian, Sarkisian’s son-in-law. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian appeared to link Minasian to the the Soviet-era facility in September. Minasian has not yet commented on that.

In 2016, the plant was sold to another company, Energo Invest Holding, which is reportedly owned by Russian-Armenian billionaire Samvel Karapetian.

Ohanian is already standing trial, along with former President Robert Kocharian and two other former officials, on coup charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. All four defendants deny the accusations. Only Kocharian is held in detention.

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