YEREVAN -- Former Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian is on trial facing large-scale corruption charges he rejects as politically motivated.
The trial of the 65-year-old Sarkisian and four other defendants at the Yerevan Court of First Instance on February 25 comes nearly two years after he was ousted from power by mass protests following a decade in office.
Sarkisian was charged in December with coordinating an "embezzlement" scheme worth 489 million drams (more than $1 million) in government funds allocated in 2013 for the provision of subsidized diesel fuel to farmers.
If convicted, he could face up to eight years in prison.
Addressing a group of supporters who had gathered outside the court building, Sarkisian expressed confidence that "there are still judges in Armenia for whom justice is above everything."
Hours before the start of the court proceedings, Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK) demanded a fair trial and dismissed the charges against him as "fabricated" and "absurd."
The Special Investigative Service alleges that Sarkisian rigged a government tender for the fuel supplier in favor of a company belonging to his longtime friend, businessman Barsegh Beglarian, rather than another fuel importer that offered a lower price.
It also indicted Barseghian, former Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian, his former deputy, Samvel Galstian, and another former government official.
All five suspects deny wrongdoing. None of them have been held in pretrial detention.
Sarkisian and his HHK say he is being prosecuted in retaliation for his public criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Sarkisian, who ruled Armenia between 2008 and 2018, had kept a low profile since resigning in April 2018 amid mass protests against his continued rule led by Pashinian.
Pashinian has repeatedly accused Sarkisian, his family, and his political entourage of corruption both before and after coming to power in 2018.