YEREVAN )RFE/RL) — President Serzh Sarkisian has pardoned a former head of Armenia’s state pension fund who was arrested five years ago and subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.
Vazgen Khachikian, who was also a senior member of Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), was set free on Thursday.
In late 2014, a court Yerevan found Khachikian and 11 other employees of the State Social Security Service (SSSS) guilty of embezzling 300 million drams ($620,000) in public funds allocated for the payment of various social benefits. Four of them were jailed for 4 to 5 years, while several others received suspended prison sentences.
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Vladimir Hakobian, refused to give the official reason for the pardon, saying that the relevant presidential decree will not be publicized. “The president is allowed [by the Armenian constitution] to grant pardons,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Khachikian and two of his former high-ranking subordinates were arrested in September 2012 in a nationwide criminal investigation into widespread corruption within the SSSS. The Armenian police launched the probe in 2011 shortly after the parliamentary Audit Chamber alleged that thousands of pensioners received, on paper, pensions years after their death. The chamber reported similar abuses in the payment of poverty and disability benefits.
Khachikian, denied the fraud and embezzlement charges throughout his trial that began in early 2013. His lawyer denounced the guilty verdict handed down by the court as “totally unfounded.”