YEREVAN — Samvel Babayan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former top military commander general linked to an Armenian opposition group, was sentenced to six years in prison on Tuesday on charges of illegal arms acquisition and money laundering which he strongly denies.
A court in Yerevan also sentenced two other men, who went on trial with Babayan in July, to three and two years’ imprisonment. The four other defendants in the high-profile trial received suspended jail terms ranging from two to two and a half years.
Babayan was arrested in March this year after Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have confiscated a surface-to-air rocket system smuggled to the country. The arrest came about two weeks before Armenia’s last parliamentary elections. Babayan was unofficially affiliated with the ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and two other opposition politicians. ORO condemned the criminal case as politically motivated.
Babayan likewise alleged political motives behind his prosecution in his concluding remarks at the trial made on Monday. He claimed that shortly after his arrest some officials “spoke of politics” with him and “explained why they caught me.” He declined to name them, while saying that he know where the “order” to jail him came from.
Also, the once powerful general again denied prosecutors’ claims that he promised to pay other defendants, notably his longtime associate Sanasar Gabrielian, $50,000 for the delivery of the shoulder-fired Igla rocket.
Gabrielian, who received the three-year prison sentence, stated during the trial that it was he who commissioned the confiscated Igla. He claimed that he wanted to donate the launcher along with its shoulder-fired rockets to Nagorno-Karabakh’s army.
A trial prosecutor maintained on November 13 that law-enforcement authorities have presented sufficient evidence of Babayan’s guilt. The prosecution has never clarified, however, why the former Karabakh army chief sought to get hold of the Russian-made rocket designed to shoot down planes and helicopters.