Are former defense ministers being persecuted in Armenia? Opinion of opposition and expert
Persecution of former defense ministers
Accusations against former defense ministers Seyran Ohanyan and Vigen Sargsyan jave given rise to controversy in Armenia. The first is accused of selling real estate for special purposes that served a military unit, the second is accused of “jumping the line” in military housing. Seyran Ohanyan has been ordered not to leave Armenia; Vigen Sargsyan was put on the wanted list.
The opposition claims that the criminal cases against them are “fabricated” and both ex-ministers are victims of “political persecution”.
There is no consensus in the expert community. According to political observer Hakob Badalyan, there is no doubt that “in the state system of Armenia funds were squandered and corruption was at the institutional level.”
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Not only ministers accused, but also their subordinates
On February 20, information appeared about the arrest of former commander of the 3rd Army Corps (2006-2010), Major General Grigory Khachaturov. The prosecutor’s office reported that he was accused of using his official position “to legalize especially large real estate acquired by criminal means (money laundering)”. This case is connected with the name of former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan.
Grigory Khachaturov was arrested after the Prosecutor General’s Office obtained the consent of the deputies of parliament to deprive him of his parliamentary immunity and bring ex-minister Seyran Ohanyan to justice. Both former high-ranking military men are accused of fraud with the sale of the territory of two military units. Ohanyan has already announced that these were old, unusable buildings and lands, which were unnecessary care and required additional expenses from the budget.
On February 21, the Anti-Corruption Court rejected the prosecutor’s request to arrest Grigory Khachaturov; he was released in the courtroom.
As in the case of ex-ministers, the opposition believes that bringing the general to criminal responsibility is dictated by political motives and the negative attitude of the current authorities towards their predecessors.
Khachaturov is the son of the former head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia, Yuri Khachaturov. Khachaturov’s father was also a former secretary of the CSTO, a Russian-led military bloc. However, the Armenian authorities withdrew their representative from the post of CSTO Secretary General in 2018, after the “Velvet” revolution.
Yerevan explained their decision by bringing Yuri Khachaturov as a defendant in the March 1 case. On this day in 2008, during the dispersal of a demonstration of those who disagreed with the results of the presidential elections, people died. Former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan was accused in the same case. According to experts, the episode with the recall of Khachaturov from his post in the CSTO caused a certain tension between the authorities of Armenia and Russia, as well as the leadership of the military bloc.
Seyran Ohanyan: “Fictitious cases”
Seyran Ohanyan, head of one of the opposition factions in parliament, served as defense minister from 2008-2016. On February 8, he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. Ohanyan is accused of embezzlement on an especially large scale and abuse of power. The third accusation against him contains secret information concerning the defense and security of the state. Armenian media referred to the scandalous case of “unusable missiles.” The main defendant in this case is another former defense minister, David Tonoyan.
Commenting on the charges, Seyran Ohanyan said that the statute of limitations had passed, and he was “innocent and will prove his innocence” in court:
“These are fictitious cases. Under this government, the primary issues – security issues – are not a priority. Everything is done to divert the attention of our society.”
According to him, the current authorities initiate criminal prosecution against “all those officials who do not serve their interests”:
“This is another proof that the goal of these people is not to improve security, but to discredit [unwanted people]. Nobody says that there were no shortcomings and mistakes in the army. But there was no criminal approach aimed at weakening our security.”
Vigen Sargsyan: “Manifestation of political persecution”
Vigen Sargsyan served as Minister of Defense in 2016-18. A criminal case against him was initiated in 2019,. He is currently not in the country.
He is accused of “intentionally committing acts beyond the scope of his authority” in the distribution of apartments intended for military personnel.
“He instructed the members of the Central Housing Commission to allocate apartments to 26 servicemen who are not registered or later included in the lists, as well as to three persons who are not in the ministry’s system,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Sargsyan stated that law enforcement agencies did not make any effort to contact him and deprived him of “the opportunity to protect his legal rights.”
“This is nothing but a manifestation of political persecution and an open violation of human rights, as it has been openly committed for years against all oppositionists,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
As for the charge brought against him, he countered that the distribution of apartments was carried out “in accordance with the requirements of the law and on the basis of the military path passed by the recipients of apartments and merits”:
“Instead of verbose nonsense, a list of those who received apartments should be published indicating the military career and merits of each, as well as a list of those whose rights, in the opinion of the prosecutor, were violated. I believe that this will be enough to consider the topic settled.
Political observer Hakob Badalyan:
“The opposition declares any such case related to the previous system as political persecution, and there is a political motive in this. The opposition is trying to turn this assessment into a defense mechanism, tool, tactic, on the one hand, and on the other hand, to keep its supporters,” he told JAMnews.
According to Badalyan, the “cementing mechanism” of the governance system in Armenia before the 2018 revolution was corruption:
“There is no doubt that in those years there was a systematic waste of public and state resources. Otherwise, political, economic and other events in Armenia would have had a completely different course and quality.”
He believes that only law enforcement agencies can find out the true state of affairs, the degree of responsibility of individual officials and their involvement in corruption schemes. Badalyan considers it important that these legal processes must be as transparent as possible and society should make sure that the investigation is taking place “within the framework of the law.”
Persecution of former defense ministers