YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Law-enforcement authorities confiscated a further $1 million worth of cash from a man who has long been former President Serzh Sarkisian’s chief bodyguard when they arrested him on Monday.
Vachagan Ghazaryan was detained by the National Security Service (NSS) five days after other law-enforcement bodies raided his apartment in Yerevan and found $1.1 million and 230,000 euros ($267,000) in cash there. The money was at least deposited with the Central Bank of Armenia pending investigation into its origin.
Investigators said on Friday that Ghazaryan and his wife failed to disclose it in their income and asset declarations submitted to an anti-corruption state commission. Such declarations are mandatory for Armenia’s high-ranking state officials and their close relatives. Ghazaryan was among them until Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan dismissed him last month as first deputy head of a security agency providing bodyguards to the country’s leaders.
An NSS video released late on Monday showed masked officers arresting the formerly powerful general outside a commercial bank in Yerevan. He was then shown emptying his bag, filled with stacks of banknotes, in an interrogation room.
An NSS statement said the bag contained $120,000 and 436 million drams ($900,000) in cash he withdrew from one of his bank accounts. It said Ghazaryan claimed that he was going to give the money to its “real owner” but refused to identify that person.
The NSS said Ghazaryan was also planning to withdraw another 1.5 billion drams ($3.1 million) kept by him and his wife at another Armenian bank. According to it, he claimed that he “forgot” to add these large sums to his official income declarations.
Despite being placed under arrest, Ghazaryan was not formally charged with any crime as of Tuesday afternoon. Under Armenian law, he cannot be kept in custody without charge for more than three days.
Ghazaryan is the first person in Armenia who could be prosecuted on charges of “illegal enrichment” and/or false asset disclosure carrying up to six years in prison. He headed Sarkisian’s security detail for more than two decades.
Armenia’s new government was instrumental in a series of high-profile corruption inquiries launched against former officials and other individuals linked to the former Armenian leader. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has repeatedly pledged to “root out” endemic corruption in the country since taking office on May 8.
Pashinyan discussed his anti-graft drive on Tuesday with the heads of the NSS, the Armenian police and other law-enforcement bodies. He told them to make sure that “this process continues more effectively” while “strictly” complying with laws and respecting human rights. According to Pashinyan’s press office, they briefed the premier on their respective agencies’ “ongoing and upcoming works towards combatting corruption.”