Hayk Marutyan

Officials Move to File Corruption Charges against Former Yerevan Mayor

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Law-enforcement authorities have moved to prosecute Hayk Marutyan, a former Yerevan mayor ousted by Armenia’s ruling party last December, just days after he scheduled satirical shows that appear to have attracted strong interest.

Marutyan was deposed by the city council after falling out with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. He kept a low profile in the following months amid lingering speculation about his plans to regain his position in the next municipal elections due in 2023.

The former TV comedian stoked that speculation on Monday, September 12, when he posted on Facebook a video ad promoting a solo show in which he will play in the country’s leading theater. The 90-second clip featuring political hints received 22,000 “likes,” a very large number by Armenian standards.

Tickets for the first four performances of the play titled “The Mayor” were sold out within hours, leading Marutyan and the theater administration to schedule additional shows. The show will be played for a total of 14 times from September 19 through the middle of November.

“I am immensely touched by such a positive reaction,” Marutyan wrote later on Monday.

Three days later, some Armenian media outlets reported that the police department of Yerevan’s Nor Nork district is poised to accuse Marutyan of illegally allocating land to a local restaurant in 2019. The police denied those reports.

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However, another law-enforcement agency, the Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC), confirmed them on Friday, saying that it has just received the findings of the police inquiry and will make a statement later on.

The ACC declined to clarify whether Marutyan has been questioned by investigators. The ex-mayor could not be reached for comment.

Isabella Abgaryan, a former member of Yerevan’s municipal council, believes that the criminal proceedings are aimed at preventing Marutyan’s renewed political activities and, in particular, his participation in next year’s mayoral elections.

“After his resignation he remained silent for a while and, as we could see, no criminal cases were opened against him,” Abgarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “But as soon as Hayk Marutyan showed some signs of political activity they [the authorities] got worried.”

The authorities, she said, are concerned that the popular entertainer could scuttle their plans to install former Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan as Yerevan’s next mayor. The ruling Civil Contract party has already nominated Avinyan as its mayoral candidate.

In July, an Armenian government agency asked prosecutors to investigate its allegations of serious financial irregularities committed by Yerevan’s municipal administration during Marutyan’s tenure. The prosecutors’ assessment of the allegations is still not known.

In June, several pro-government websites claimed that the municipality embezzled or misused as much as $40 million on Marutyan’s watch. The ex-mayor laughed off the allegations.

“Guys — and also girls — I have made no decision yet on participating or not participating in the next Yerevan elections,” he wrote on Facebook. “You can breathe a sigh of relief and calm down.”

Marutyan himself accused Pashinyan’s administration of corruption on December 22 as Yerevan’s Council of Elders ousted him in a vote of no confidence initiated by its pro-government majority.

He claimed that during his three-year tenure he routinely received phone calls from unnamed “various officials” asking for construction permits, land allocations, tax advantages and other privileges for “people close to them.” He did not name any of them, saying only that he rejected all such requests.

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