Former President’s Brother, Under Investigation, ‘Donates’ $18 Million to Government

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A controversial brother of Armenia’s former President Serzh Sargsyan has been formally charged with fraud, his lawyer said on Tuesday, February 19.

The lawyer, Mihran Poghosian said that the accusation stems from over a dozen drawings by the 20th century Armenian painter Martiros Saryan which were found in Aleksandr Sargsyan’s family house in Yerevan in July. Poghosian dismissed it as baseless but did not go into details. He also said that his client was not arrested pending investigation.

Officers of the National Security Service (NSS) confiscated the drawings worth an estimated $280,000 when they searched the house in July. The NSS claimed that Sargsyan’s elder son Narek had deceived Saryan’s descendants to get hold of them. Narek, who fled Armenia June, was subsequently charged with illegal arms possession and drug trafficking.

Aleksandr Sargsyan was briefly detained by the NSS after the nine-hour search. Also in July, his second son, Hayk, was arrested on charges of attempted murder and illegal arms possession. A Yerevan court freed him on bail in September.

During his brother’s 2008-2018 rule, Aleksandr Sargsyan, who is better known to the public as “Sashik,” earned notoriety for his flamboyant behavior and insults addressed to critics of Armenia’s former government. The 62-year-old is thought to have made a fortune in the past two decades. He held a parliament seat from 2003 to 2011.

Sargsyan’s $30-million Armenian bank account was frozen this summer as part of a separate inquiry conducted by the NSS. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan publicly demanded in September that he “return the money to the state budget.”

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The ex-president’s brother rejected Pashinyan’s demand as illegal. He said that the authorities have not come up with any proof that the sum was earned illegally. Still, he made clear that he will be ready to donate some of it to the state if his and his family members’ assets are unblocked.

Citing an unnamed government source, Civilnet.am reported earlier on Tuesday that Sargsyan has transferred $18.5 million to the state. His lawyer refused to confirm or refute the report.

Also facing prosecution is Serzh Sargsyan’s second brother, Levon. He and his daughter were charged with “illegal enrichment” after tax inspectors discovered in June that they hold millions of dollars in undeclared deposits at an Armenian bank. Levon Sargsyan reportedly left the country around the same time.

Serzh Sargsyan stepped down in April 2018 amid Pashinyan-led mass protests sparked by his attempt to extend his rule by becoming prime minister. He has not publicly commented on the embarrassing charges brought against his relatives. But some of his associates have alleged political motives behind the high-profile criminal cases.

Edmon Marukyan, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) which had also challenged Sargsyan, expressed concern at what he described as a lack of transparency in the prosecution of individuals linked to the former regime. In particular, he wondered why “Shashik” reportedly made the hefty payment to the state without a court ruling.

“Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the fact that he returned [the money,]” Marukyan told reporters. “I just want us to understand what kind of a process it resulted from.”

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