RFE/RL Armenian Report – 04/18/2019


Indicted Ex-Official’s House Searched

        • Naira Nalbandian
        • Naira Bulghadarian

Armenia - Parliament deputy Mihran Poghosian at a session of the National 
Assembly in Yerevan, 19 May 2017.

Law-enforcement officers searched on Thursday the Yerevan house of Mihran 
Poghosian, a former senior Armenian official prosecuted on corruption charges.

Poghosian’s office was the first to report the search, saying that armed 
officers of the National Security Service (NSS) “broke into” the house in the 
morning. “We regard these repressive actions as a manifestation of political 
persecution,” it said in a statement.

An RFE/RL correspondent saw security officers outside Poghosian’s villa. One of 
them confirmed that it was raided by law-enforcement bodies.

An NSS spokesman, Samson Galstian, said afterwards that the search was 
conducted by the Special Investigative Service (SIS) as part of its criminal 
case against Poghosian. The NSS only assisted in that operation, he said.

A court in Yerevan on Monday allowed the SIS to arrest Poghosian after he was 
charged with abusing his powers to enrich himself while in office. Poghosian 
ran an Armenian state agency enforcing court rulings from 2008-2016.

The SIS claims that he embezzled, through individuals and companies linked to 
him, at least 64.2 million drams ($132,000) in public funds.

It also accuses him of giving privileged treatment to a real estate valuation 
firm that was contracted by the Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial 
Acts (SMEJA) in 2014. According to SIS investigators, the firm was registered 
by shadowy companies set up by Poghosian “through foreign citizens” in Panama 
in 2011.

Citing leaked documents widely known as the Panama Papers, the Hetq.am 
investigative publication reported in April 2016 that Poghosian controls three 
such companies registered in the Central American state. Poghosian dismissed 
the report but resigned as SMEJA chief shortly afterwards, despite continuing 
to deny any wrongdoing.

Poghosian’s office on Monday denied the charges as politically motivated. It 
said the authorities have effectively disproved his detractors’ allegations 
that the once powerful ex-official held hundreds of millions of dollars in 
offshore bank accounts.

The office also scoffed at the SIS’s decision to launch a domestic and 
international hunt for Poghosian. It released the address of an apartment in 
Moscow where it said Poghosian currently resides. The SIS was notified about 
his current place of residence “from the outset,” it added.

The office did not specify whether the former SMEJA chief, who had close ties 
to Armenia’s former leadership, is planning to return to the country.

Tensions Mount Between Ruling Bloc, Tsarukian

        • Gayane Saribekian
        • Astghik Bedevian

Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (C) arrives for a business forum 
organized by Gagik Tsarukian (L), October 26, 2018.

Tensions between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s alliance and Gagik 
Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) rose on Thursday as their senior 
representatives traded fresh accusations in the parliament.

Vahagn Hovakimian, a senior pro-government lawmaker, hit back at BHK claims 
that many of his younger colleagues from the My Step alliance are incompetent. 
He noted that Tsarukian delivered his first-ever speech on the parliament floor 
in January, nearly 16 years after being first elected to the National Assembly.

“They need to remember that the leader of their parliamentary group, having 
been a deputy for 16 years, spoke from this rostrum for the first time ever in 
January this year,” said Hovakimian, who is thought to be close to Pashinian.

BHK parliamentarians reacted angrily to that statement, triggering a shouting 
match with Hovakimian and other members of the parliament’s pro-government 

“How dare you bad-mouth that person?” said the BHK’s Sergey Bagratian. 
“’First-ever speech,’ ‘second-ever speech’ … There are so many things you 
haven’t done for the first time in your life.”

“You must not say anything about the leader of our faction anymore,” added 

Tsarukian also slammed Hovakimian when he spoke to reporters afterwards. “What 
have you done in your life to be able to utter Tsarukian’s name?” he said, 
appealing to the former journalist who had long worked for Pashinian’s 
“Haykakan Zhamanak” daily. “You haven’t done a tiny bit of what Tsarukian has 

The tycoon, whose opposition party is the second largest parliamentary force, 
used the row to reiterate his criticism of the current government’s economic 
policies. He said that the government has yet to bring about economic 
betterment which was promised by Pashinian during and after last year’s “velvet 
revolution” backed by the BHK.

Tsarukian charged early this month that many government officials are 
incompetent. This was followed by bitter recriminations traded by My Step and 
the BHK over a transgender activist’s bombshell speech delivered in the 
Armenian parliament.

On April 9 Pashinian accused a senior BHK lawmaker of organizing a “political 
provocation” against the parliament majority loyal to him. Tsarukian and his 
associated rejected the accusation.

Tax officials raided some of the businesses belonging to Tsarukian in the 
following days. BHK representatives said the tax audits may be politically 
motivated. The State Revenue Committee denied that.

Yerevan Denies Discussing Russian Peace Plan On Karabakh

        • Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia - The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, at a news 
briefing in Yerevan, December 20, 2018.

Armenia said on Thursday that Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian did not 
discuss with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov a 2016 Russian plant 
to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh at their meeting held in Moscow on Monday.

Azerbaijani media quoted Mammadyarov as saying that the plan proposed by Russia 
shortly after the April 2016 fighting in Karabakh was on the agenda of his 
talks with Mnatsakanian. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who mediated 
the talks, confirmed this on Wednesday.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, denied 
Mammadyarov’s claim, however.

“No negotiations on any plan are underway at present,” she said in written 
comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Furthermore, the substantive part of 
[Armenian-Azerbaijani] discussions continues to center on getting familiarized 
with, clarifying and ascertaining each other’s positions.”

Naghdalian said Mammadyarov’s claim undermined efforts to boost “mutual trust” 
between the conflicting parties because it contradicted a joint statement 
issued by the three foreign ministers after the Moscow meeting.

According to that statement, the warring sides reaffirmed their earlier pledges 
to strengthen the ceasefire regime and take other confidence-building measures 
in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Mnatsakanian and Mammadyarov also 
“exchanged detailed views on key aspects of the settlement process,” it said 
without elaborating.

The Russian peace plan has still not been made public. Lavrov on Wednesday 
refused to disclose its key details. He said only that the plan is in tune with 
the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement which have repeatedly been laid 
out by the U.S., Russian and French mediators in recent years.

In a March 9 statement, the mediators reiterated that “any fair and lasting 
settlement” must involve “return of the territories surrounding 
Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh 
providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking 
Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of 
Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.”

Senior Armenian Official Indicted In Corruption Probe

        • Nane Sahakian

Armenia - Davit Sanasarian, the head of the State Overisght Service, speaks to 
journalists in Yerevan, June 21, 2018.

Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) on Thursday brought corruption 
charges against a senior government official and political ally of Prime 
Minister Nikol Pashinian who actively participated in last year’s “velvet 

The NSS said that Davit Sanasarian, the head of the State Oversight Service 
(SOS), will therefore be suspended pending investigation. But it decided not to 
arrest him for now.

Two senior officials from Sanasarian’s agency, which is tasked with combatting 
financial irregularities in the public sector, were arrested in late February. 
The NSS said they colluded with a private firm linked to them in order to 
personally benefit from government-funded supplies of medical equipment to 
three hospitals.

A senior executive of the firm, Zorashen, was also taken into custody. All 
three suspects denied the charges.

Sanasarian defended his arrested subordinates and protested their innocence at 
the time. He was subsequently questioned by NSS investigators.

In a statement, the NSS said that it has collected sufficient evidence to 
charge Sanasarian with an abuse of power aimed at benefiting the “company 
effectively managed by his subordinates.” The SOS chief will face up to four 
years in prison if convicted.

Armenia - Davit Sanasarian (L), head of the State Oversight Service, and Artur 
Vanetsian (R), director of the Natonal Security Service, at a cabinet meeting 
in Yerevan, February 21, 2019.

Sanasarian strongly denied any wrongdoing when he spoke to reporters several 
hours before the NSS’s announcement. “Nobody, no structure can link me with any 
corrupt practice because I reject any corrupt practice,” he said after 
attending a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

Sanasarian declined to comment on a news report that one of the arrested SOS 
officials, Samvel Adian, gave incriminating testimony against him. “I’m not 
authorized to speak about that,” he said. “But I can say one thing for certain: 
I could not have been involved in any corrupt deals. There can be no such 

Sanasarian also reiterated his concerns about the NSS investigation, saying 
that he has conveyed them to Pashinian. He stressed that he does not believe 
that the prime minister ordered the NSS to prosecute him for political reasons.

Sanasarian, 34, is a former opposition and civic activist who had for years 
challenged Armenia’s former government, accusing it of corruption and 
incompetence. He played a major role in the mass protests which brought 
Pashinian to power in May 2018. The latter named him to manage the SOS shortly 
after becoming prime minister.

Sanasarian ran in Armenia’s December 2018 parliamentary elections as a 
candidate of Pashinian’s My Step alliance.

Armenia -- Davit Sanasarian (L) and other opposition activists lead a 
demonstration in support of gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan, 
July 29, 2016.

The NSS claimed earlier that the arrested SOS officials arbitrarily forced 
medical institutions to rig rules for the choice of companies supplying 
expensive equipment for hemodialysis, a treatment of kidney failure. It said 
they wanted to make sure that “the business entity sponsored by them” wins 
tenders for such supplies.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on February 26 
that he asked the NSS to investigate “external interference” in 
dialysis-related procurements because the new tender rules threatened to 
disrupt the vital medical services provided to around a thousand patients 
across the country.

The dialysis equipment tenders were until then won by a handful of private 
firms. Earlier in February, one of their owners accused Sanasarian of 
deliberately driving his Frezen company out of business. Sanasarian dismissed 
the allegations, saying that the SOS has simply broken up Frezen’s “monopoly” 
on supplies to one of the hospitals.

U.S. Lawmakers Visit Armenia

Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian poses for a photograph with members 
of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, Yerevan, 

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian called for U.S. assistance to what he called 
“radical reforms” implemented by his government when he met with eight members 
of the U.S. House of Representatives in Yerevan on Thursday.

The U.S. congressional delegation comprised David Price, the chairman of the 
House Democracy Partnership, and other members of the bipartisan commission 
tasked with supporting legislatures in emerging democracies. It met with 
Armenian parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan on Wednesday.

Pashinian told the visiting American lawmakers that boosting Armenia’s 
relations with the United States is one of his administration’s foreign policy 
priorities. According to a statement by the prime minister’s office, he briefed 
them on political and economic reforms launched in the country after last 
year’s “velvet revolution.”

“Nikol Pashinian emphasized that his government is taking consistent steps to 
strengthen the institutional and economic power of democracy and expects the 
support of our international partners, including the United States,” said the 

“The Congress members assured of their willingness to assist Armenia in 
promoting democracy, implementing economic reforms and strengthening the 
Armenian-American friendship,” it added.

Speaking in the Armenian parliament late last month, Pashinian complained about 
Washington’s “zero reaction” to democratic change in his country. He seemed 
unhappy with the fact that there has been no significant increase in U.S. 
economic assistance to Yerevan since he came to power a year ago.

The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, responded to the criticism when 
she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. Tracy, who accompanied the 
U.S. lawmakers during their meetings in Yerevan, argued that the U.S. has 
provided over $2 billion in aid to Armenia since 1992 and is committed to more 
such assistance.

Press Review

“Haykakan Zhamanak” reports that residents of a growing number of rural 
communities across Armenia are taking to the streets to demand the resignation 
of their mayors. “In some cases the work of local administrations is paralyzed 
because members of local councils boycott sessions,” writes the paper. “In 
other cases, the confrontations take more serious forms: demonstrations, 
clashes, street blockades and so on.” It says one of the reasons for this 
unrest is that village councils want to play a larger role in local governance, 
emboldened by Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. 
Also, it says, community mayors “performed different functions” under the 
country’s former regime.

“Zhamanak” reports that prosecutors have reopened a criminal investigation into 
the 2013 assassination of Hrach Muradian, the Dashnaktsutyun-affiliated mayor 
of Proshian, a big village just west of Yerevan. The paper links the 
development to Dashnaktsutyun’s recent criticism of law-enforcement 
authorities’ failure to solve the murder and threats to stage regular street 
protests. It claims that the prosecutors are thus “turning the situation 
against the former authorities.” It recalls that Muradian was shot dead shortly 
after defeating an election challenger nominated by Serzh Sarkisian’s 
Republican Party (HHK).

“Zhoghovurd” says that many in Armenia have for decades felt that knowledge and 
professional skills are less important than connections for making a career in 
the public and even private sectors. “It is therefore not accidental that 
whenever there is talk these days of appointing someone to a [government] 
position few care about the latter’s professional qualities,” writes the paper. 
“Many are curious instead to know what party they are from, who they are 
related to and whether they marched during the [2018] revolution … And when an 
official slips up or messes up their area of responsibility everyone starts 
pointing the finger at the intermediary [who presumably helped them get the 
job] and point to their political connections or relatives. So it’s about time 
we also had a revolution in the field of evaluation of officials.”

(Lilit Harutiunian)

Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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