Siradeghian Detained Upon Return to Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Vano Siradeghian–Armenia’s former interior minister facing murder charges–was detained Monday immediately after his surprise return from a three-month self-imposed exile.

He was apprehended by law-enforcement officers at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport as he disembarked from a plane on the flight from the Bulgarian capital–Sofia. His wife and child faced obstacles while passing through the VIP lounge. Another person accompanying Siradeghian told reporters that the former minister was approached on the tarmac by two men who asked him "politely" to follow them.

Siradeghian–who is one of the closest associates of former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan–left Armenia for Dubai in late January after state prosecutors accused him of ordering murders of two police officers while in power.

Siradeghian and his Armenian National Movement–have dismissed charges as politically motivated.

According to a senior ANM member–the ex-minister will be kept in custody for 72 hours as required by Armenian law.

With Siradeghian standing as a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections–the prosecutors need the approval of two thirds of Central Election Commission members to turn the detention into permanent arrest.

CEC vice-president Vanya Mkhitarian told the Noyan Tapan news agency that the commission was preparing a request to the prosecutor general’s office for details on the Siradeghian case. Mkhitarian said that the CEC hoped the prosecutor would provide the necessary information to the CEC in a timely manner.

Per Armenian law–an individual may be detained for up to 96 hours. Armenian law further stipulates that a candidate for elected office has immunity from prosecution. Siradeghian is a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Noyan Tapan added that on February 17–Armenia’s National Assembly voted to lift Siradeghian’s parliamentary immunity–agreeing that he would not be incarcerated during the trial or investigation.

Ararat Zurabian–the ANM’s deputy chairman–said the prosecutors have promised him to "consider" Siradeghian’s release from custody if the opposition party files a written request guaranteeing its leader’s non-absence from Armenia. Siradeghian’s arrest angered dozens of ANM activists who gathered at the airport to give a red-carpet reception to their leader–known for his flamboyant behavior. Many of them later stood outside the prosecutor’s office in Yerevan as Zurabian and other party leaders were given explanations inside the building–RFE/RL reported.

Noyan Tapan also published a statement by the ANM executive board issued late Monday night–condemning Siradeghian’s arrest.

Calling the arrest a "violation of constitutional order," the ANM accused the leadership of compromising the election process.

Siradeghian is being charged with ordering the murders of two interior security officers–after they failed to carry out an assassination plot against a Russian-Armenian businessman. The prosecutor general also fingered Siradeghian as a key player in the assassination of Armenia’s railroad chief Hambartsoum Ghandlian. These crimes occurred during Siradeghian’s tenure as interior minister.

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