Robert Nazarian, Armenia’s former chief utility regulator, strongly denied corruption charges brought against him on Friday one day after his arrest.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) formally charged Nazarian with abuse of power and asked a Yerevan court to remand him in pre-trial custody. The court is due to rule on the petition on Saturday.
The SIS also arrested and indicted two other former members of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) which was headed by Nazarian from 2003 to 2018.
The law-enforcement body claimed on Thursday that Nazarian, 64, ensured in 2011 the privileged treatment by the PSRC of an energy company allegedly linked to Mikael Minasian, former President Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law. It said that allowed a hydroelectric plant privatized by the company in 2010 to make more than 7 billion drams ($14.5 million) in extra profits over the next eight years.
“The accusation has nothing to do with reality,” Nazarian’s lawyer, Gagik Khachikian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “It is completely unfounded and illegal.”
Khachikian insisted that his client, who had served as Yerevan’s mayor from 2001-2003, did not break any laws or regulations in his capacity as PSRC chairman. Investigators have not presented any evidence to the contrary, he said.
The DzoraHEK plant was handed over to the Armenia Defense Ministry in 2001 one year after Sarkisian became defense minister. He ran the ministry until 2007.
In 2010, then President Sarkisian’s government decided to sell the 26-megawatt facility to the Dzoraget Hydro company for 3.6 billion drams ($7.5 million).
Prosecutors said in May 2019 DzoraHEK was in fact worth an estimated 8 billion drams ($16.8 million). Earlier this year, they indicted Seyran Ohanian, Armenia’s defense minister from 2008 to 2016, in connection with the plant’s privatization which they said caused “substantial damage” to the state.
Ohanian denied any responsibility for the deal, saying that it was negotiated by the Armenian Energy Ministry and approved by the former government.
Minasian, who is married to one of Sarkisian’s daughters, left Armenia in late 2018 and is now facing separate corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.