A parliament deputy from Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) has left the country’s largest parliamentary opposition force after being questioned in an ongoing criminal investigation.
The lawmaker, Sergey Bagratian, formally notified parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan about his decision to quit the BHK in a letter revealed on Thursday. Bagratian is understood to have given no reason for the move. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Some Armenian media outlets speculated that Bagratian defected from the BHK to avoid prosecution on corruption charges. They claimed that the charges stem from financial abuses allegedly committed in Armenia’s southeastern Vayots Dzor when it was governed by Bagratian from 2010-2012.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Arevik Khachatrian, said on Friday that Bagratian was questioned as a witness in a criminal case opened recently. She refused to give any details of the probe.
A senior BHK parliamentarian, Naira Zohrabian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Bagratian’s decision took her and her colleagues by surprise.
“Mr. Bagratian had no differences with the leader or any other member of our parliamentary faction,” she said. “We always had very active, businesslike and friendly relations with Sergey Bagratian.”
Zohrabian said that Bagratian has not answered phone calls from other BHK members or communicated with them otherwise for the past month. “We have zero information about why Mr. Bagratian left the faction,” she stressed.
Bagratian, 57, stopped making public statements shortly after the Armenian parliament allowed law-enforcement authorities on June 15 to arrest and prosecute Tsarukian on vote buying charges which the BHK leader rejects as politically motivated.
The BHK claims that Pashinian ordered the National Security Service (NSS) to “fabricate” the charges in response to Tsarukian’s June 5 calls for the Armenian government’s resignation. It also also says in recent weeks the NSS and police have rounded up scores of BHK activists in a bid to ratchet up the pressure on Tsarukian. Pashinian and his allies deny a politically motivated crackdown on the party.
Bagratian’s exit reduced to 24 the number of parliament seats held by the BHK. The latter continues to have the second largest group in the 132-member National Assembly controlled by Pashinian’s My Step bloc.