Former President Serzh Sargsyan

Former Armenian President Charged With Embezzlement

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Law-enforcement authorities brought on Wednesday, December 4, corruption charges against Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s former president toppled during last year’s “Velvet Revolution.”

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) alleged that Sargsyan “organized the embezzlement by a group of officials” of 489 million drams (just over $1 million) in government funds allocated in 2013 for the provision of subsidized diesel fuel to farmers.

In a statement, the SIS said that Sargsyan interfered in a government tender for the fuel supplier to ensure that it is won by Flash, a company which has long been one of Armenia’s main fuel importers. Flash is owned by Barsegh Beglaryan, a businessman believed to have had close ties to the 65-year-old ex-president.

The government paid Flash over 1.8 billion drams ($3.8 million) as part of the scheme designed to help tens of thousands of low-income farmers across the country. According to the SIS statement, another private company, Maxhur, was ready to supply the same quantity of diesel fuel at a lower price which would have allowed the government to save 489 million drams.

The SIS said that the government’s failure to pick Maxhur amounted to a deliberate embezzlement of public funds ordered by Sargsyan.

The law-enforcement agency stopped short of arresting the man who ruled Armenia from 2008-2018. It said it had him sign a formal pledge not to leave the country pending investigation.

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Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) rejected the accusation, carrying between four and eight years in prison, as “fabricated and ludicrous.”

“We regard the accusation leveled against Serzh Sargsyan as a blatant manifestation of solely political persecution,” read a statement released by the HHK’s governing body headed by him. “This process is aimed at silencing political opponents against the background of dangers threatening Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).”

The former ruling party also claimed with such high-profile criminal cases the current authorities want to “deflect the Armenian people’s attention” from grave challenges facing the country.

Sargsyan has kept a low profile since resigning in April 2018 amid mass protests against his continued rule led by Nikol Pashinyan, the current Armenian prime minister.

The ex-president claimed to be not afraid of being arrested in rare comments to selected journalists made in late October. He accused Pashinyan’s government of jeopardizing democracy and stifling dissent in a November 20 speech at a congress of the European People’s Party held in Croatia.

Some of Sargsyan’s relatives, cronies and political allies have been prosecuted on corruption charges since his ouster. Also, his predecessor and erstwhile ally, Robert Kocharyan, was arrested in July 2018 on coup and bribery charges which he rejects as politically motivated.

The HHK has also alleged political motives behind most of these high-profile cases. The authorities deny that. They claim to have already eradicated “systemic” government corruption which they say was one of the main foundations of Sargsyan’s regime.

Vahagn Hovakimian, a senior member of Pashinyan’s My Step alliance, also denied on Thursday any connection between the accusation and Sargsyan’s first public speech delivered since his dramatic resignation in April 2018. He said the ex-president addressed a congress of the European People’s Party in Croatia on November 20 in anticipation of his indictment.

“The guy positioned himself so as to say ‘look, there is political persecution,’” claimed Hovakimian. “In Armenia, nobody will be subjected to political persecution anymore, at least as long as our political force is in government.”

Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK), also said that he sees no political motives behind the high-profile case. Instead of alleging such motives, the HHK and its leader should make detailed statements on the embezzlement charge itself, he said.

“They freely speak up and freely engage in political activities and will continue to do so,” added Marukian. He also stressed the fact that Sargsyan was not arrested despite predictions to the contrary made by the ex-president’s entourage in recent months.

But Gevorg Petrosian, a senior parliamentarian representing Prosperous Armenia (BHK), the other opposition party represented in the parliament, did not exclude that Sargsyan is prosecuted for political reasons. He too pointed to Sargsyan’s November 20 speech, saying that it “could not have pleased the authorities.”

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