Parliament Clears Way For Oskanian Prosecution
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Armenian parliament allowed law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday to prosecute Vartan Oskanian on fraud charges which the former foreign minister and his Prosperous Armenia Party consider politically motivated.
The 131-member National Assembly lifted Oskanian’s immunity from prosecution by a secret vote of 64 in favor to 6 against after a heated debate that pitted its pro-government majority against virtually all other parliamentary factions. Deputies from the Prosperous Armenia Party and their opposition colleagues boycotted the parliament vote.
Oskanian was quick to condemn the development. “That injustice is not against me,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “It is against our people, ordinary citizens, younger generations and the fate of our country in general.”
Oskanian is now expected to be formally charged with misappropriating a $1.4 million donation that was made by U.S. philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. to his Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation in late 2010. Addressing the parliament on Monday, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian indicated that he will not be arrested pending investigation.
One of Oskanian’s lawyers, Tigran Atanesian, insisted on Tuesday that Hovsepian failed to substantiate the accusations made by the National Security Service (NSS). He argued that neither the Civilitas management nor Huntsman’s representatives have lodged any complaints against his client.
Atanesian also strongly denied the chief Armenian prosecutor’s claim that Oskanian spent more than $180,000 of the donated money “for personal purposes” after it was transferred to one of his bank accounts in January 2011.
U.S. ‘Very Concerned’ About Oskanian Case
The United States expressed serious concern on Tuesday about the Armenian authorities’ controversial criminal case against Oskanian, saying that political considerations might be behind it.
“We have been following the legal case against former Foreign Minister Oskanian carefully and are very concerned by recent developments,” the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said in a statement.
“We hope that this case does not represent a politically motivated and selective enforcement of Armenian law, as this would detract from efforts to promote greater transparency and reform in the legal, justice and legislative sectors in Armenia,” warned the statement.
The statement was issued just hours after the Armenian parliament allowed the NSS to press charges the former minister highly critical of the government.
Heffern was among Yerevan-based Western diplomats who met with Oskanian, a former U.S. citizen, at his Civilitas Foundation think-tank on Friday.
The meeting took place the day after Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian asked the National Assembly to lift Oskanian’s immunity from prosecution. Oskanian said afterwards that he gave them documents proving his innocence.
Kocharian Slams ‘Nonsensical’ Case Against Oskanian
Former President Robert Kocharian on Wednesday condemned the controversial criminal case against Oskanian and voiced support for the opposition politician who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister throughout his decade-long rule.
“The nonsense of this whole affair is disappointing,” Kocharian said in a written statement. “I feel sorry for what has happened and express my sympathy and support for Vartan Oskanian.”
“Vartan Oskanian was one of the most successful ministers and is one of the politicians who passed the test of government,” he said. “He has been effective and honest both in the past, in government, and now.”
Kocharian echoed their arguments that neither Huntsman nor the current Civilitas leadership has alleged any wrongdoing by Oskanian. “I carefully familiarized myself with the published details of the ‘case’ and could not find the answer to the key question: what is the National Security Service, the prosecutors and the parliament to do with friendly relations between, Jon Huntsman, Vartan Oskanian and the Civilitas Foundation?” said Kocharian.
By allowing the NSS to press charges against Oskanian the National Assembly discredited itself and damaged Armenia’s reputation, charged Kocharian. “This is not what Armenia needs now,” he said.
Kocharian stressed that Oskanian must not be persecuted “even for the sake of one’s own authority.” “Especially given that he represents a party with a very serious segment of the electorate,” he added, referring to the Prosperous Armenia Party.