YEREVAN -- Armenia’s former President Serzh Sarkisian is scheduled to go on trial on February 25 to defend himself against large-scale corruption charges he rejects as politically motivated.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) charged Sarkisian in early 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.
The SIS alleged 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 has been held in pretrial detention.
Galstian’s lawyer, Vachagan Kosian, said on February 19 that during the trial he will petition the court to throw out the accusations leveled against his client. He said his client is being unfairly prosecuted for only relaying a “verbal order” issued by Karapetian to another Agriculture Ministry official.
Karapetian headed the ministry during the alleged embezzlement scheme. The high-profile criminal case is reportedly based on his incriminating testimony against Sarkisian and Beglarian.
According to the businessman’s lawyer, Nikolay Hakobian, the ex-minister stood by his testimony when he and Beglarian were brought face to face and questioned by SIS earlier this month.
Speaking to reporters on February 18, Hakobian described as “baseless” investigators’ claims that his client “prodded” Sarkisian to have the fuel supply contract awarded to his firm.
Sarkisian’s lawyers and the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) still headed by the 65-year-old ex-president deny the embezzlement charges. They say that he is being prosecuted in retaliation for his public criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Sarkisian, who ruled Armenia from 2008 to 2018, accused Pashinian’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. He had kept a low profile since resigning in April 2018 amid mass protests led by Pashinian against his continued rule.
Pashinian has repeatedly implicated Sarkisian, his family, and political entourage for corruption both before and after coming to power during the country’s Velvet Revolution.
Another former Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, who served two five-year terms from 1998 to 2008, is currently on trial on charges stemming from his alleged role in a 2008 postelection crackdown on the opposition, as well as for taking bribes.
Kocharian, who is also highly critical of Pashinian’s government, denies the charges, describing them as politically motivated.
Unlike Sarkisian, Kocharian is in custody. Since being arrested in July 2018, he had twice been released from detention by court decisions, but in both cases he was rearrested after prosecutors won appeals.