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Opposition Candidates Arrested For ‘Vote Buying’


Armenia -- The main entrance to the Office of the Prosecutor-General.

Two election candidates representing opposition groups led by former President Serzh Sarkisian and businessman Gagik Tsarukian have been arrested for allegedly distributing vote bribes.

One of them, Ruben Khlghatian, is a former mayor of the town of Armavir. He is 16th on the electoral list of the opposition Pativ Unem bloc co-headed by Sarkisian and former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian.

According to law-enforcement authorities, Khlghatian was arrested in the nearby village of Janfida late on Thursday while giving a local resident 9 million drams ($17,300) in cash which the Armenian police said was due to be used for vote buying.

The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Friday that the two men tried to discard the money when police officers entered the villager’s house. A police video showed stacks of 20,000-dram notes lying on the ground.

A spokesman for the prosecutors said they have asked Armenia’s Central Election Commission to allow investigators to indict Khlghatian.

The former mayor, who had run Armavir for 14 years, denied the accusations as politically motivated through his lawyer, Gayane Papoyan.

“The criminal case has nothing to do with jurisprudence,” Papoyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

A senior Pativ Unem representative, Armen Ashotian, likewise described Khlghatian’s arrest as an “act of political vendetta” ordered by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. He claimed that Pashinian is worried about Pativ Unem’s rising popularity ahead of the June 20 parliamentary elections.

Janfida residents interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service said that nobody has offered to pay them for voting for the opposition bloc.

“Nobody has made such an offer to me,” said one man. “There have been no such things in the village,” insisted another.

Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission allowed the authorities to press charges against the other arrested suspect, Aramayis Aproyan. The latter is a resident of the town of Gavar running for the parliament on the ticket of Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

The Special Investigative Service claimed that Aproyan and another local BHK activist have handed out food parcels worth 7,000 drams ($13.5) each to Gavar residents pledging to vote for the opposition party.

It was not clear if the suspects will plead guilty to the accusations. The BHK did not issue statements on Aproyan’s arrest.

Under Armenian law, both giving and accepting vote bribes are criminal offenses punishable by up to seven years in prison.

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