Harutiunian is believed to have fled Armenia shortly before or after being charged in January 2019 with receiving $14 million in bribes while in office.
An Armenian businesswoman, Silva Hambardzumian, claims to have paid the bribes in 2008 in return for obtaining a dozen mining licenses from the Ministry of Environment Protection. Harutiunian has denied the accusations through his lawyers.
The 54-year-old served as environment minister from 2007-2014. He was elected to the Armenian parliament in 2017 on then President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party’s ticket.
Also prosecuted are three other individuals linked to Harutiunian. They are accused of channeling the huge bribe to the former minister through offshore bank accounts. Two of them also remain on the run.
The Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) recently completed the investigation into the biggest case of alleged bribery in Armenia’s history and sent its findings to a prosecutor for approval. An ACC investigator told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service earlier this month that the accusations are “more than substantiated.”
A prosecutor overseeing the inquiry has refused to endorse the findings and thus pave the way for the trial of Harutiunian and the three other suspects, however.
A spokesman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Thursday that the case was sent back to the ACC for further investigation. It was not immediately clear why the prosecutor considers the probe flawed.
The prosecutor’s decision is another blow to the credibility of the law-enforcement agency which was set up last year to investigate corruption cases.
Earlier this week, another prosecutor refused to give the green light to the trial of Vladimir Gasparian, a former chief of the Armenian police facing separate corruption charges brought by the Anti-Corruption Committee. The committee condemned the decision as “illegal and unfounded” and blamed Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian for it.