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Former Armenian Foreign Minister, Opposition Lawmaker Charged With Money Laundering

Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian (left) addressed the Armenian National Assembly in Yerevan on October 1.
Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian (left) addressed the Armenian National Assembly in Yerevan on October 1.
YEREVAN -- Armenian authorities have charged a prominent opposition lawmaker and former foreign minister, Vartan Oskanian, with embezzlement and money laundering in a case widely seen as politically motivated.

Oskanian was summoned to the National Security Service (NSS) on October 8 and formally charged with misappropriating $1.4 million donated by a U.S. philanthropist to his Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation in late 2010.

Armenia's parliament stripped Oskanian of his immunity last week.

He faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Oskanian denies wrongdoing, saying that he did not break any law by keeping the donation on his personal bank account before transferring it to the foundation.

He describes the charges against him as "political persecution" aimed at damaging him and his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) ahead of a presidential election scheduled for February 2013.

Oskanian, who represents the BHK party in parliament, has been widely tipped as a possible challenger to President Serzh Sarkisian in the poll.

The BHK party is led by Gagik Tsarukian, an arm-wrestler-turned-millionaire.

Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian issued a statement last week in defense of Oskanian, who served as foreign minister during his tenure.

A number of prominent figures from the Armenian Diaspora have also voiced their support for the beleaguered lawmaker.

Civilitas Foundation Director Salpi Ghazarian says signatures are being collected in support of Oskanian.

The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has also expressed concern, saying Washington hoped the case "does not represent a politically motivated and selective enforcement of Armenian law."

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