Armenia’s top army general, Artak Davtian, former Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan and several other men went on trial on Wednesday, accused of supplying the armed forces with faulty ammunition.
The defendants include two other generals and an arms dealer, Davit Galstian. The National Security Service (NSS) arrested them and Tonoyan in September on charges of fraud and embezzlement that cost the state almost 2.3 billion drams ($4.7 million).
The accusations stem from thousands of air-to-surface rockets which a company owned by Galstian delivered to Armenia in 2011. The Armenian Defense Ministry refused to buy most of them at the time, saying that they are unusable.
The ministry re-commissioned them after Tonoyan was appointed as defense minister in 2018. Investigators claim that Tonoyan and the two arrested generals arranged the deal for personal gain.
All three men deny the accusations. Their lawyers maintain that the ammunition reportedly manufactured in 1991 was not outdated.
Prosecutors revealed last week that Lieutenant-General Davtian, the chief the Armenian army’s General Staff, was also charged with abuse of power as part of the criminal case.
Davtian has not been sacked despite the indictment. It remains unclear whether he will plead guilty to the accusations.
Davtian was absent from the opening session of the high-profile trial.
The presiding judge, Manvel Shahverdian, accepted prosecutors’ demand that the trial be held behind the closed door because it will feature “state secrets.” Defense lawyers strongly objected to the decision. They argued, in particular, that the NSS and the Office of the Prosecutor-General have already released all details of the case.
“They have publicized everything that could be of interest to enemy states,” said Yerem Sargsian, a lawyer representing Avetik Muradian, the arrested former commander of the Armenian Air Force.
Tonoyan’s legal team claimed on Tuesday that by trying to bar journalists from the trial the prosecutors want to cover up the lack of incriminating evidence at their disposal.
The defense lawyers have also denounced the NSS for not test-firing the rockets in question during the investigation. They say that such forensic tests would have proved that the rockets are usable.