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Armenian Parliament Allows Prosecution, Arrest Of Opposition Leader Tsarukian

Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian
Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian

YEREVAN -- Armenian lawmakers have voted to strip the leader of the country’s main opposition party of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution and allow his arrest.

The National Assembly on June 16 backed the prosecutor-general’s motions against Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), over suspected vote buying in the 2017 general elections.

Tsarukian and members of his political team have called the cases politically motivated, a claim rejected by representatives of the pro-government majority in parliament.

In two separate ballots on June 16, 87 members of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance voted in favor of allowing Tsarukian’s prosecution and arrest, with no lawmaker in the chamber voting against.

The BHK and the other opposition faction, Bright Armenia, did not take part in the secret ballot.

Addressing parliament, Tsarukian alleged that he was being punished for calling for Pashinian’s cabinet to resign, and reiterated accusations that the government has mishandled the coronavirus crisis.

“There is an extremely difficult situation in all spheres today and [the government] has mishandled the pandemic,” the opposition leader said.

During the session, several Tsarukian supporters staged a protest outside the parliament building and were detained by police for violating a ban on political assemblies that has been imposed as part of measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In his motions, Prosecutor-General Artak Davtian said Tsarukian “created and led an organized group” that bought more than 17,000 votes during parliamentary elections held in April 2017.

Davtian said residents of Gegharkunik Province were given 10,000 drams ($21) in the vote-buying operation, adding that the National Security Service (NSS) has collected documents and testimony corroborating the accusations.

Separately, the NSS has opened two criminal cases involving Tsarukian, a wealthy business owner.

The security service accused companies owned by the BHK leader of large-scale fraud after raiding his villa outside Yerevan on June 14.

Tsarukian was then interrogated for more than eight hours.

The BHK joined the government formed by Pashinian after coming to power in May 2018, but the ministers affiliated with the party were sacked in October that year.

The BHK came distant second in the December 2018 snap parliamentary elections, winning 26 seats in the 132-member parliament.