Armenian opposition party leader deprived of MP immunity will not be arrested
On June 21, an Armenian court refused to uphold the National Security Service’s request to arrest the leader of the Prosperous Armenia opposition party and one of the country’s largest businessmen, Gagik Tsarukyan, as a pretrial measure.
The legal process will continue, but the businessman will remain free until the trial.
Gagik Tsarukyan is being charged in three criminal cases. Two of them relate to the commercial activities of his companies. In addition, Tsarukyan is accused of “creating and leading a group” that bribed voters on the eve of the 2017 parliamentary elections.
Gagik Tsarukyan himself says that he is not guilty and that the trial is illegal, hastily put-together, and an example of flagrant political persecution related to the fact that he demanded that the current administration resign.
The court first began considering the case on June 17. The hearings were closed to journalists, who were forced to wait outside of the court building throughout the trial process.
Opening a criminal case against the head of a parliamentary faction only became possible after June 16, when the National Assembly granted the Prosecutor General’s request to deprive Gagik Tsarukyan of immunity. Only deputies of the ruling My Step Bloc participated in the vote.
The opposition opposed the decision to deprive Tsarukyan of his immunity. But since the two opposition parties together do not have enough votes to sway a decision, they simply refused to vote.
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Opposition parties not represented within the parliament also believe that the Prosecutor General could not provide strong evidence of Gagik Tsarukyan’s guilt.
That being said, they also believe that the opposition is being politically persecuted and express their solidarity.
This was reported to journalists mainly by representatives of the parties “One Armenia,” “Homeland,” and “Dashnaktsutyun.”
Ruling bloc opinions
Lilit Makunts, leader of the ruling My Step Bloc, believes that there has recently been a tendency to declare that all legal cases are political persecution. She sees this as an attempt to influence law enforcement:
“Without violating the presumption of the innocence of anyone in any case, we will once again declare that in, Armenia from now on, everyone is equal before the law, regardless of their position, political affiliation or political views.”
The prime minister’s statement
Nikol Pashinyan also believes that the criminal case against Tsarukyan is a purely legally motivated.
The prime minister commented on the claim of Tsarukyan and his supporters that the criminal case is politically motivated, since the process began after June 5, when he called for the current government to resign.
“But on the same day, my spokesman responded, saying that Tsarukyan was involved in a number of criminal cases, which is why he made this statement,” Pashinyan said.
The prime minister is outraged by criticism from political circles and accusations against the authorities in Tsarukyan’s case.
During a government meeting on June 18, he turned to “international structures, which for the past 30 years have demanded that Armenia fight corruption bribery, and violations during the elections.”
In all likelihood, he responded to a statement made by the former head of the European Council and President of the European People’s Party Donald Tusk, who urged Armenian authorities to refrain from putting pressure on the opposition:
“Now that the real fight has begun, they say, ‘Why put pressure on the opposition?’ So now the officials who have been corrupt these 30 years have become the opposition. This is a very convenient approach, saying ‘I am the opposition, do not touch me.’”