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Court Sanctions Tsarukian’s Arrest


Armenia - Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian talks to journalists before attending a court hearing on his pre-trial arrest, Yerevan, September 25, 2020.

A Yerevan court allowed investigators late on Friday to arrest Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading the opposition Prosperous Armenia (BHK), on vote buying charges rejected by him as politically motivated.

His lawyers described the ruling as “illegal” and “unfounded,” saying that it was ordered by the government.

Tsarukian also condemned it as he headed to a prison in downtown Yerevan later in the evening. He was greeted by several dozen supporters outside the prison building.

Tsarukian, whose party has the second largest group in the Armenian parliament, again claimed to be persecuted by the authorities when he spoke to journalists in the morning. “If Tsarukian’s arrest improves the plight of the people, then I have no problem,” he said sarcastically before attending a court hearing on the arrest warrant sought by the National Security Service (NSS).

The tycoon was taken into custody just over three months after the parliament dominated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s allies lifted his legal immunity from prosecution and arrest. The NSS claimed that he “created and led an organized group” that bought more than 17,000 votes for the BHK during parliamentary elections held in 2017.

Tsarukian strongly denies the accusations. He and his party maintain that Pashinian ordered the criminal proceedings in response to the BHK leader’s calls for the government’s resignation. Pashinian and law-enforcement authorities deny that the case is politically motivated.

A Yerevan judge refused to allow Tsarukian’s pre-trial arrest on June 21. Armenia’s Court of Appeals overturned that decision on July 8, ordering a lower court to hold new hearings on the matter.

Defense lawyers said the investigators kept pushing for Tsarukian’s arrest despite producing no proof that their client has pressured witnesses or obstructed the NSS investigation otherwise over the past three months. “This is simply absurd,” one of them, Yerem Sargsian, told journalists.

Sargsian and the other lawyers linked the arrest warrant to an anti-government rally which will be held by the BHK and two other opposition parties in Yerevan on October 8.

Representatives of the BHK, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Hayrenik party said on Thursday that the rally will go ahead even if Tsarukian is taken into custody. They said they will demand the holding of snap parliamentary elections.

The NSS said that it has also indicted a total of 14 individuals, among them two former BHK parliamentarians, and questioned 162 others as part of the probe.

The BHK was part of Pashinian’s first cabinet formed following the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018. The prime minister fired his BHK-affiliated ministers in October 2018, accusing Tsarukian of secretly collaborating with the country’s former leadership toppled in the revolution.

Addressing senior BHK members on June 5, Tsarukian accused the government of mishandling Armenia’s coronavirus crisis and failing to mitigate its socioeconomic consequences.

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