YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The Special Investigative Service (SIS) has asked a Yerevan court to issue an arrest warrant for Armenia’s former Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian after formally accusing him of receiving $14 million in bribes.
The SIS reiterated prosecutors’ recent allegations that an Armenian businesswoman, Silva Hambardzumian, paid the money in 2008 in return for obtaining a dozen mining licenses from Harutiunian’s ministry.
Hambardzumian claimed to have bribed Harutiunian through several intermediaries close to him when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in late October. She said that the mining licenses were subsequently revoked and that she never got her money back.
Hambardzumian allegedly paid the first installments of the bribes, worth $6 million, in cash.
According to an SIS statement, she wired the rest of the money to bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates. Harutiunian subsequently transferred the sum to the Swiss bank account of an “international company” linked to him, said the statement.
Harutiunian denied through a lawyer the corruption accusations brought against him by SIS. The lawyer, Karen Hakobian, said that Harutiunian has not fled Armenia but refused to shed more light on his whereabouts after a Yerevan court issued an arrest warrant for him. Nor did Hakobian say whether his client will surrender to the Investigative Service following the court’s decision.
Hakobian dismissed the charges as “nonsensical.” “Those licenses were never of any use to anyone,” he said, adding that nobody would have paid millions of dollars for the right to search for, rather than mine, metals in several potential deposits in Armenia.
“I think that the investigation will continue and these accusations will be refuted,” the lawyer told journalists.
Hakobian also said that the former minister was not allowed to travel abroad recently, before being indicted by the SIS. “Mr. Harutiunian wanted to leave the country for the purpose of his wife’s medical treatment but his departure was illegally blocked at the border checkpoint [of Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport,]” he said.
Harutiunian served as environment minister from 2007-2014 and was elected to the Armenian parliament in 2017 on then President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party’s ticket. The prosecutors attempted to arrest him in early December. The outgoing parliament, in which the Republicans had the largest group, declined to lift Harutiunian’s immunity from prosecution.