In a statement, the NSS said that Tonoyan and Davit Galstian, an arms dealer also arrested late on Wednesday, are accused of fraud and embezzlement that cost the state almost 2.3 billion drams ($4.7 million).
Later in the day a court in Yerevan allowed the NSS to hold Tonoyan in detention pending investigation. A lawyer for the former minister said he denies the accusations and will therefore appeal against the decision.
“The criminal case contains plenty of information that disproves the accusations,” Sergei Hovannisian told journalists.
Galstian also protested his innocence during a separate court hearing on his pre-trial arrest.
Galstian owns several firms that have for years sold weapons and ammunition to the Armenian military. He was already arrested in February on charges of supplying the military with unusable artillery shells worth $1 million. Armenia’s Court of Appeals released the businessman reputedly close to Tonoyan from custody four months later.
It was not immediately clear whether or not Tonoyan, who served as defense minister from 2018-2020, will plead guilty to the accusations.
The NSS statement said that criminal proceedings have also been launched against other serving and retired military officials as part of “large-scale operational-investigative measures” taken by its investigators. It did not name those officials.
A deputy chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Lieutenant-General Stepan Galstian, was summoned to the NSS for questioning late on Wednesday. According to the Hraparak newspaper, investigators searched his and Tonoyan’s apartments.
In what appears to be a related development, the NSS also arrested late last week the commander of Armenia’s Air Force. It claimed that the general abused his powers to arrange for personal gain a $4.7 million contract for the supply of outdated rockets to the armed forces.
According to the security service, the Defense Ministry had refused to buy the same batch of rockets from a private intermediary in 2011.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian appointed Tonoyan as defense minister immediately after coming to power in the May-April 2018 “velvet revolution” that toppled Armenia’s longtime leader, Serzh Sarkisian.
Tonoyan had served as a deputy defense minister and minister of emergencies during Sarkisian’s rule. In April 2018, one of Pashinian’s close associates, Ararat Mirzoyan, described him as a “real professional” and “person of integrity” who will quickly modernize the Armenian army.
Tonoyan was sacked in November 2020 less than two weeks after a Russian-brokered agreement stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Some senior pro-Pashinian parliamentarians blamed him for Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war. The prime minister faced angry opposition demonstrations and fought for his political survival at the time.
Later in November, the then chief of the army staff, Colonel-General Onik Gasparian, said four days after the outbreak of the war he warned Armenia’s political leadership to urgently reach a truce agreement with Azerbaijan to halt the hostilities. Pashinian subsequently denied Gasparian’s claim.
However, Tonoyan not only confirmed the warning issued by the army top brass but also said that it was “agreed with me.”