Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian dismissed on Wednesday opposition claims that Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), is prosecuted for political reasons.
“In the past the authorities used such criminal cases to keep those [opposition] forces under control, force them into coalitions and so on because they lacked legitimacy,” said Pashinian. “Our government does not have such an objective. We don’t need to turn criminal cases into subjects of political horse-trading so that they make fewer [anti-government] statements or watch their language.”
“We know the [right] method of making them watch their language,” he said “We will teach them.”
“They won’t even talk here anymore because the people will kick them out of here altogether,” he added during the Armenian government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament.
Pashinian spoke there the day after the parliament’s pro-government majority voted to allow law-enforcement authorities to prosecute and arrest Tsarukian on charges of buying votes during parliamentary elections held in 2017.
Tsarukian and his party, which makes up the largest opposition group in the National Assembly, reject the accusations as baseless and politically motivated. They say that Pashinian ordered the criminal proceedings in response to the BHK leader’s recent calls for the government’s resignation.
Addressing his senior loyalists on June 5, Tsarukian accused the government of mishandling Armenia’s coronavirus crisis and failing to mitigate its socioeconomic consequences. Pashinian and his political allies reacted angrily to that speech.
Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian denied that the case is politically motivated when he spoke in the parliament on Tuesday. He said that the National Security Service (NSS) launched the vote buying investigation in February.
The NSS interrogated Tsarukian again immediately after the parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution. It went on to ask a court in Yerevan to allow investigators to place one of the country’s richest men under pre-trial arrest.
The court began hearings on the NSS demand on Wednesday evening.