Armenian parliament revokes immunity of opposition faction leader and businessman
The Armenian parliament approved a decision to revoke the parliamentary immunity of the leader of the Prosperous Armenia opposition party Gagik Tsarukyan on June 16.
He is accused of “creating and leading a group” that bribed voters on the eve of the 2017 parliamentary elections.
On June 15, the prosecutor general appealed to parliament to institute criminal proceedings against MP Tsarukyan, accusing him of bribing voters and calling for his imprisonment. Moreover, the document submitted to the National Assembly states that the investigation managed to obtain evidence of his guilt in the criminal case first instituted in February 2020.
Tsarukyan, one of the country’s most prominent businessmen, denies these accusations. Moreover, he claims that the prosecution is hastily putting together a makeshift case against him and that this is blatant political persecution in connection with his latest high-profile statement. On June 5, he called for the current administration to resign, saying that it was unable to handle its current duties.
Gagik Tsarukyan said that if the criminal case against him had been opened before he accused the government of incompetence, then there may be doubt, but seeing as it began after he demanded that the government resign, it is clearly a politically-motivated act.
The opposition is represented in the Armenian National Assembly by two parties. One of them is Prosperous Armenia, led by Gagik Tsarukyan, which has 25 MPs. The Bright Armenia opposition party occupies 18 seats.
And although all oppositionists spoke out against ending Tsarukyan’s immunity, their votes alone are not enough to make a decision. And what’s more, they refused to vote. Only ruling majority MPs participated. All 87 MPs from the My Step Alliance who participated in the secret ballot voted in favor of the decision.
While the parliament meeting was taking place, a protest rally held by those who support Tsarukyan was held near the building. The rally was unauthorized, and more than a hundred people were detained.
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Tsarukyan’s Speech in Parliament
Tsarukyan stated that he had supported the new administration since power first changed hands, that is, after the Velvet Revolution in 2018, and even signed a memorandum of cooperation with the government, and that he truly wanted to help. Tsarukyan stated that he invested $20,000,000,000 in the Armenian economy.
Meanwhile, the authorities, he said, created their own bubble of reality and periodically spread misinformation which compromised their own position. Addressing the government, the businessman said:
“For two years now you have made promises to the people. But they are all lies. You have failed in everything.”
After the speech, Tsarukyan left the courtroom. In the parliament building, he was met by employees of the National Security Service, led by the head of the Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Department.
Mikael Hambartsumyan did not answer journalists’ questions about what the National Security Service was doing outside of the parliament building, or about whether Gagik Tsarukyan had already been deprived of his immunity. He only said that they have an agreement to interrogate him. Tsarukyan left with the security officers for questioning.
The proceeding search and interrogation
On the morning of Sunday, June 14, Gagik Tsarukyan’s house was searched. He was then taken to the National Security Service office for questioning.
It was reported that the deputy is being interrogated as a witness. At the same time, the NSS circulated reports of three criminal cases in which Tsarukyan was charged. They involved illegal activities undertaken by his companies, namely gambling and bribing voters during the 2017 parliamentary elections.
During the 10-hour interrogation session, supporters and party members of Tsarukyan held a protest rally in front of the National Security Service building. Because of the continuing state of emergency in connection with the coronavirus, which stipulates that all public events are prohibited, more than two hundred people were detained.
Gagik Tsarukyan’s lawyer believes that his client was not in any way involved with the criminal cases in which he is accused, and that there are no grounds for depriving him of his immunity.
“These criminal proceedings are absolutely illegal and unacceptable, because according to the thoughts expressed both in their statements and in their comments, we can demonstrate that an open criminal prosecution was launched against Mr. Tsarukyan. In jurisprudence there is also the concept of a ‘hidden’ criminal prosecution, but they didn’t even attempt to do this,” stated Emin Khachatryan.
The prosecutor’s motion was known in advance
Over the past two days, members of the Prosperous Armenia Party have also made statements that their leader is innocent and being unjustly persecuted.
Prosperous Armenia Party MP Naira Zohrabyan announced on June 14 that the party has reliable information that the authorities are preparing to deprive Tsarukyan of immunity and that the prosecutor general will petition to the parliament. On June 15, she repeated this information on her Facebook page, adding:
“Attorney General Arthur Davtyan still has the chance to refuse to implement this political order.”
Advisor to the Prosecutor General Gor Abrahamyan replied:
“There can be no political decision to submit a motion to deprive the immunity of any MP, including Gagik Tsarukyan. Such decisions are made exclusively within the framework of criminal prosecutions, based on how reliable the prosecutor general considers the evidence obtained during the investigation.”
A few hours after this statement was made, the speaker of parliament said that he had already received a request from the prosecutor general.
Bright Armenia Party opinions
The Bright Armenia Party made a statement saying that criminal cases against the leader of Prosperous Armenia Party Gagik Tsarukyan were “politically motivated”:
“Any person who violates the law must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. But the use of the legal process, as well as blackmail as a political tool to silence opponents, is unacceptable and reprehensible.”
The prime minister’s opinion
Before the start of the parliamentary meeting on depriving Tsarukyan of immunity, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on his Facebook page:
“All cases of deprivation people of freedom of expression (and corruption in general, abuse, tax evasion, etc.) should be investigated in accordance with Armenian law…Freedom, democracy and the rule of law must be observed in Armenia. Everyone is equal before the law.”