The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Thursday that Vigen Sargsian, who served as defense minister from 2016-2018, has been charged with abuse of power in connection with the distribution of government-funded housing to Armenian army officers and their families.
In a statement, the office claimed that Sargsian illegally ordered a Defense Ministry commission to allocate 29 apartments in Yerevan to military personnel and ministry officials who were not on an official waiting list for those homes. It said it has asked a Yerevan court to approve an arrest warrant for Sargsian, who now lives in the United States.
The prosecutors also brought charges against five members of that commission but did not move to arrest them.
Another law-enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, already alleged such violations in October 2019. But Sargsian, who rejected the allegations as politically motivated, was not formally charged at the time.
The prosecutors indicted Sargsian on Wednesday just as the Armenian parliament allowed them to bring separate corruption charges against Seyran Ohanian, another former defense minister who now leads the parliamentary group of the main opposition Hayastan alliance.
Prosecutor-General Anna Vardapetian formally asked the National Assembly to lift Ohanian’s immunity from prosecution on January 20 one day after 15 Armenian soldiers died at their makeshift barracks destroyed by a major fire.
The soldiers’ deaths sparked nationwide anger and calls for the resignation of Armenia’s current defense minister, Suren Papikian, and even Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The families of victims deeply distrust an ongoing criminal investigation into the deadly accident, suspecting a cover-up.
Ohanian and other Hayastan leaders claim that the criminal proceedings launched against him are aimed at deflecting the public’s attention from the shock deaths.
Both Ohanian and Sargsian served in the administration of former President Serzh Sarkisian. The latter was forced to resign in April 2018 amid nationwide protests led by Pashinian. Vigen Sargsian stepped down immediately after Pashinian was elected prime minister in May 2018.
Sargsian topped the list of the former ruling Republican Party’s candidates in snap parliamentary elections held in December 2018. According to their official results, the party narrowly failed to clear a 5 percent vote threshold to enter the parliament. Sargsian emigrated to the U.S. shortly afterwards.