Friday, August 7, 2020 Arrested Former Official Denies Abuse Of Power Charges • Naira Bulghadarian Armenia -- Robert Nazarian chairs a session of the Public Services Regulatory Commission, Yerevan, June 7, 2013. Robert Nazarian, Armenia’s former chief utility regulator, strongly denied corruption charges brought against him on Friday one day after his arrest. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) formally charged Nazarian with abuse of power and asked a Yerevan court to remand him in pre-trial custody. The court is due to rule on the petition on Saturday. The SIS also arrested and indicted two other former members of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) which was headed by Nazarian from 2003 to 2018. The law-enforcement body claimed on Thursday that Nazarian, 64, ensured in 2011 the privileged treatment by the PSRC of an energy company allegedly linked to Mikael Minasian, former President Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law. It said that allowed a hydroelectric plant privatized by the company in 2010 to make more than 7 billion drams ($14.5 million) in extra profits over the next eight years. “The accusation has nothing to do with reality,” Nazarian’s lawyer, Gagik Khachikian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “It is completely unfounded and illegal.” Khachikian insisted that his client, who had served as Yerevan’s mayor from 2001-2003, did not break any laws or regulations in his capacity as PSRC chairman. Investigators have not presented any evidence to the contrary, he said. The DzoraHEK plant was handed over to the Armenia Defense Ministry in 2001 one year after Sarkisian became defense minister. He ran the ministry until 2007. In 2010, then President Sarkisian’s government decided to sell the 26-megawatt facility to the Dzoraget Hydro company for 3.6 billion drams ($7.5 million). Prosecutors said in May 2019 DzoraHEK was in fact worth an estimated 8 billion drams ($16.8 million). Earlier this year, they indicted Seyran Ohanian, Armenia’s defense minister from 2008 to 2016, in connection with the plant’s privatization which they said caused “substantial damage” to the state. Ohanian denied any responsibility for the deal, saying that it was negotiated by the Armenian Energy Ministry and approved by the former government. Minasian, who is married to one of Sarkisian’s daughters, left Armenia in late 2018 and is now facing separate corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated. Government Details Armenian Aid To Lebanon • Marine Khachatrian LEBANON -- Medics shift an injured person from Najjar Hospital to another hospital in Al-Hamra area in Beirut after Port explosion, in Beirut, August 4, 2020. The Armenian government clarified on Friday that it will send three planeloads of humanitarian aid to Lebanon following a massive explosion in Beirut which killed at least 154 people and injured thousands of others. Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian said that about 12 tons of medication, foodstuffs and other vital supplies will be delivered to the Lebanese capital on Saturday evening. Two more such flights will be carried out from Yerevan in the following days, Avinian said at a meeting of senior government officials chaired by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The government pledged to provide relief aid immediately after Tuesday’s explosion at Beirut port warehouses. Pashinian described Lebanon as “one of Armenia’s closest friends,” alluding to the existence of a sizable and influential Armenian community in the Middle Eastern state. At least 11 members of the community were reportedly among the victims of the explosion. The devastating blast wave also destroyed or seriously damaged many Lebanese Armenian homes. Avinian said that several Armenian government officials and lawmakers, including Zareh Sinanyan, the commissioner of Diaspora affairs, will also fly to Beirut on Saturday on board the transport plane. He said they will try to ascertain other needs of Lebanon’s government and Armenian community. Sinanyan told reporters that Yerevan was also prepared to send rescue teams and medics to Beirut. He said the Lebanese authorities turned down the offer because the Armenian side could not airlift the kind of heavy machinery that is used by rescuers from other countries sent to Beirut. The blast and its devastating consequences have led to calls for the evacuation of Lebanon’s ethnic Armenian nationals willing to relocate to Armenia. Some opposition politicians and public figures as well as Lebanese-born citizens or residents of Armenia have urged the Armenian government to launch special Yerevan-Beirut flights for that purpose. Zulal Tsaturian, a Lebanese Armenian woman, immigrated to Armenia with her husband and children three years ago. Her parents and brother lived until Tuesday in an apartment located just a few hundred meters from the Beirut port. It was seriously damaged by the blast. “They are still in shock,” Tsaturian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Now that they are homeless, they would love to come and join me here and start a new life in the homeland,” she said. “There is no life there anymore. Lebanon’s decline began a long time ago.” Sarkisian Rules Out Armenia’s ‘Return To Past’ • Sargis Harutyunyan Armenia - Former President Serzh Sarkisian arrives at the parliament building, Yerevan, April 16, 2020 Former President Serzh Sarkisian assured Armenians on Friday that he is not seeking their country’s “return to the past” more than two years after losing power as a result of mass protests. Despite remaining the top leader of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sarkisian has kept a low profile since the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” triggered by his attempt to extend his decade-long rule. During a rare and brief conversation with journalists in April this year, he promised to hold an extensive news conference after a coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia, which was due to end on May 14 but has been repeatedly extended since then. In a series of short video messages posted on Facebook on Friday, Sarkisian blamed the current government’s “failed fight against the pandemic” and the continuing state of emergency for his failure to meet the press and speak at length for the first time since the revolution. He said he has decided to record instead video answers to questions preoccupying the public. “It is clear that there can be no return to the past,” the 66-year-old ex-president said in response to one of those questions. “But it is equally clear that it is impossible to attain a bright future without correctly evaluating the past. The history of the newly independent Republic of Armenia cannot start from April 2018.” “We have many things to do,” he went on. “Without losing hope, we need to consolidate all resources of our state, all capable forces and individuals and to move forward.” Sarkisian added that he has rarely made public statements so far in order to avoid adding to political tensions and “polarization” in the country. Other senior HHK figures regularly and strongly criticize the administration of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, a former journalist who led the 2018 protests fuelled by popular anger against government corruption and injustice. They accuse the current authorities of incompetence, misrule and attempts to stifle dissent. Pashinian and his political allies dismiss these claims. The premier has repeatedly implicated Sarkisian, his family and political entourage in corruption both before and after coming to power. Sarkisian, his two brothers, son-in-law Mikael Minasian as well as some former senior officials have been indicted in separate corruption investigations launched after the 2018 regime change. They reject the accusations as politically motivated. Former Armenian Lawmaker Extradited From Russia Armenia -- Parliament deputy Levon Sargsian is seen in Yerevan, May 3, 2007. Russia has extradited to Armenia a notorious Armenian businessman and former parliamentarian wanted by law-enforcement authorities in Yerevan on robbery charges. Levon Sargsian held a seat in the Armenian parliament from 1999-2012. He officially represented former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in the National Assembly from 2007-2012. Sargsian, 52, had been on the run since the National Security Service (NSS) accused him in October 2018 of masterminding a 2008 robbery at the Yerevan house of Armen Avetisian, a former chief of the Armenian customs service. The NSS claimed that he hired an armed gang to break into the house and steal cash and precious items kept there because of his personal feud with Avetisian. Ten alleged members of the gang were arrested, tried and given lengthy prison sentences in 2011. The NSS indicted Sargsian over the robbery six months after the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” in the country. Sargsian was reportedly arrested by the Russian police near Moscow last November. Armenian prosecutors said in March this year that Russian authorities have agreed to extradite the man better known to Armenians as “Alraghatsi Lyov.” According to a spokesman for Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian, Sargsian was flown to Yerevan late on Thursday.He was escorted by Armenian police officers and arrested at Yerevan airport, the official, Gor Abrahamian, announced on Facebook. Armenian media for years linked Sargsian to various scandals, violent incidents and electoral fraud mostly reported in a Yerevan district where he lived and held sway. In 2009, for example, a female journalist said that the then influential parliamentarian swore at her and had his bodyguards physically attack her at a polling station in the capital. Sargsian denied those claims. He avoided prosecution even after investigators effectively implicated him in a police cover-up of a murder committed in 2010. A police general was arrested and jailed for that crime in 2012. Sargsian is one of several former senior Armenian officials who moved to Russia after the 2018 regime change to avoid prosecution on various charges. Moscow has not extradited most of them. The fugitives include two other wealthy and influential members of Armenia’s former leadership who had earned the HHK many votes in elections. One of them, Mihran Poghosian, is the former chief of a state body enforcing judicial acts, while the other, Ruben Hayrapetian, used to head the Football Federation of Armenia. Both men are facing corruption charges denied by them. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.