Gen. Manvel Grigoryan

Retired General Arrested for Stockpiling Military Weapons, Goods; Son, Mayor of Echmiadzin, Forced to Resign

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Eighty-one members of parliament on June 18 voted to support the Prosecutor General’s motion to launch criminal proceedings against an arrested lawmaker, Manvel Grigoryan, the former general, who is suspected of embezzling military supplies and illegal possession of firearms.

Only three members of Parliament voted against prosecution, chairman of the counting committee Gagik Melikyan said.

Grigoryan, who chairs the Yerkrapah Volunteer Union, a paramilitary organization, was arrested on June 16 by national security service in his hometown of Echmiadzin (Vagharshapat).

The Republican Party member is suspected in embezzling military supplies and illegal possession of firearms.

Agents found huge amounts of military weapons and ammunition and supplies, including donated food, clothing and even include letters written by schoolchildren during the days of the April War of 2016.

The National Security Service (NSS) released on Sunday a video of searches carried out by its officers at Grigoryan’s vast villas and other properties.

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The donations were made by local communities, public schools and other civilian institutions during the April 2016 war in Karabakh.

“It emerged that Manvel Grigoryan has used the food meant for soldiers participating in the four-day April [2016] war for feeding animals of his private zoo,” the NSS charged in a statement. It said Grigoryan also misappropriated several vehicles that were donated to the military two years ago.

The video also featured many weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, as well as several dozen expensive and retro cars parked in the Arshaluys compound. It was swiftly aired by Armenia’s main TV channels and widely shared on social media.

The Prosecutor General requested an extraordinary sitting of the parliament to take place to strip the MP of parliamentary immunity, in order to keep him in pre-trial custody.

Grigoryan has denied any wrongdoing, and in a letter sent to the speaker said he will restore his reputation, and called on his colleagues to strip him of immunity since “he has no desire to obstruct the investigation.”

A private zoo and a large car collection were also found during the search of the compound.

Grigoryan denies the accusations of illegal arms possession and embezzlement levelled against him, his lawyers said on Tuesday, June 19.

According to them, Grigoryan has told investigators that he has nothing to do with large quantities of food, medication and other items meant for Armenian soldiers which were confiscated from a vast village compound belonging to him.

“He has testified that he visited that property rarely, let’s say two or three times a year,” one of the lawyers, Karen Kamalian, said at a news conference. “As regards the place where those goods were discovered, he did not have the keys [to its entrance door.]”

Another attorney, Arayik Alvanian, claimed that those items were shipped to and from the property by other senior members of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans without Grigoryan’s knowledge. Grigoryan has headed the organization close to the Armenian military for almost two decades.

In an open letter released on Monday, Grigoryan pledged to provide documents proving that the warehouse “catered” for Yerkrapah’s legitimate activities, rather than served as a hideout for embezzled military supplies. Alvanian denied any contradiction between that claim and statements made by him and three other lawyers representing the ex-general.

Seyran Ohanian, another retired general who was Armenia’s defense minister during the four-day war, said on Tuesday that he “experienced pain” when watching the televised NSS footage. He insisted that he was not involved in or even aware of the alleged embezzlement of donations to the armed forces.

“Of course I did not know that,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “A special commission was set up then to handle all kinds of assistance which it distributed in corresponding directions.”

He put the blame on unnamed “structures” that delivered such aid to various military units or oversaw that process.

A week ago, Ohanian received a summons from tax inspectors investigating suspected financial irregularities committed by Armenian Defense Ministry officials from 2014 to 2017. The State Revenue Committee (SRC) said the former defense minister will be questioned as a witness.

Meanwhile, the recently appointed chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Major General Artak Davtian, issued a statement on Tuesday implicitly referring to the high-profile case against Grigoryan. “Impunity is now a thing of the past,” he declared.

Davtian said the Armenian military will join the country’s new government in waging an “uncompromising struggle even against seemingly insignificant abuses.”

Parliament Vote

Grigoryan’s arrest was met by demonstrations held by supporters in of Echmiadzin, while others demonstrated for the arrest of his son, Karen, the longtime mayor of the city accusing him of corruption and mismanagement and demanding his resignation.

Speakers at the rallies there also called for an end to what they say an atmosphere of fear created by Manvel Grigoryan, who has long held sway in Echmiadzin and nearby villages. They used the slogans and tactics of a recent nationwide protest movement that toppled Armenia’s previous government.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who swept to power as a result of that movement, denounced this fact on Friday. “It’s unacceptable that criminal elements are desecrating symbols of our revolution of love and solidarity and exploiting the revolution in mafia wars,” he wrote on Facebook. “We will not allow that.”

Pashinyan clearly alluded to reports that the man behind the protests against the Grigoryans is Artur Asatrian, an Echmiadzin native who has long been branded a crime figure by Armenian media.

On Saturday, officers of the NSS raided Asatrian’s Echmiadzin compound and other properties owned by the man better known as “Don Pipo.” Asatrian and four other men, all of them Russian citizens, were arrested as a result.

In a written statement, the NSS said that Asatrian is suspected of illegally possessing weapons and kidnapping three individuals who had allegedly plotted to assassinate him a few years ago.

In an apparently related development, security officers also searched the Echmiadzin villa of Manvel Grigoryan. They found and confiscated large quantities of “illegally acquired” weapons and ammunition before detaining the once powerful general, according to the NSS statement.

War Veteran

The NSS raids and arrests came as Karen Grigoryan’s opponents stepped up the pressure on the Echmiadzin mayor, blocking the town’s main streets in the morning. The embattled mayor organized a counterdemonstration in the town’s central square later in the day. Riot police were deployed there to prevent possible clashes between the rival groups of protesters.

The mayor resigned late on Sunday after law-enforcement authorities made new and far more embarrassing accusations against his father.

Karen has been Echmiadzin’s mayor for almost a decade.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan defended the arrest in a video address to the nation aired through Facebook on Sunday afternoon. He was the first to announce that Grigoryan is also suspected of large-scale embezzlement.

“Nobody denies that Manvel Grigoryan is a hero of Artsakh (Karabakh),” Pashinyan went on. “But even the heroes have no right to steal aid sent by schoolchildren in Gyumri, Echmiadzin and Yerevan to soldiers fighting on the frontlines and to feed his wild animals with it.”

The Republican Party (HHK) reacted to the embarrassing video on Monday with a statement which called the ex-general’s alleged corruption “unacceptable and outrageous.” “We are shocked and outraged that such things could have possibly been done by anyone, especially a general who had actively participated in the Artsakh war,” read an HHK statement.

“While respecting the presumption of innocence, we are declaring that if the accusations levelled against Manvel Grigoryan are proved in a manner defined by the law he must be legally and strictly held accountable,” it said.

The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, indicated earlier in the day that the former ruling party no longer regards the high-profile case as politically motivated. “I must declare that the matter lies in a purely legal domain and we must allow investigators to carry out further actions in a manner defined by the law,” said Sharmazanov. “If it turns out that all this is true, there can be no justification for it,” he added.

The HHK did not clarify whether its lawmakers will vote for allowing law-enforcement authorities to press charges against Manvel Grigoryan, who was reelected to the Armenian parliament on the HHK ticket last year.

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