Armenia’s Court of Appeals adjourned on Thursday the first hearing on the pre-trial arrest of Gagik Tsarukian, the indicted leader of the main opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), sought by prosecutors.
The district court in Yerevan refused on June 21 to sanction Tsarukian’s arrest on vote buying charges rejected by him as politically motivated. Both the prosecutors and Tsarukian’s lawyers appealed against that decision. The lawyers objected to the court’s conclusion that investigators have grounds to suspect that the BHK leader handed out vote bribes during parliamentary elections held in 2017.
One of Tsarukian’s lawyers, Emin Khachatrian, said the Court of Appeals rescheduled the hearing for July 7 because it has not yet received all petitions and other documents which the litigants sent to it by post.
The prosecutors kept pressing for Tsarukian’s arrest even after it emerged on Tuesday that he has been infected with the coronavirus. According to Khachatrian, Tsarukian stays mostly at home while visiting a Yerevan hospital for treatment on a daily basis.
The National Security Service (NSS) says that Tsarukian “created and led an organized group” that bought more than 17,000 votes for the BHK during the 2017 elections. It claims to have collected documents showing that a BHK candidate, Vazgen Poghosian, distributed vote bribes to residents of the Gegharkunik province. The NSS also says that Poghosian has given incriminating testimony against Tsarukian.
Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Tsarukian and Poghosian were brought face to face and interrogated by the NSS recently. He said the joint interrogation only reinforced the defense lawyers’ belief that the criminal case against their client is baseless. But he did not give any details.
Tsarukian, who is one of the country’s wealthiest persons, and his party maintain that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian ordered the criminal proceedings in response to the BHK leader’s June 5 calls for the government’s resignation. Pashinian and law-enforcement authorities deny that the case is politically motivated.