Serzh Sarkisian (R) and former Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetyan (L)

YEREVAN — Armenia’s former President Serzh Sarkisian will go on trial next Tuesday on corruption charges which he rejects as politically motivated.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) charged Sarkisian in early December with organizing the “embezzlement by a group of officials” of 489 million drams (just over $1 million) in government funds allocated in 2013 for the provision of subsidized diesel fuel to farmers.

The SIS claimed that Sarkisian interfered in a government tender for the fuel supplier to ensure that it is won by a company belonging to his longtime friend, businessman Barsegh Beglaryan, rather than another fuel importer that offered a lower price. It also indicted Barseghyan, former Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetyan, his former deputy Samvel Galstyan and another former government official.

All five suspects deny any wrongdoing. None of them has been held in pre-trial detention.

Galatyan’s lawyer, Vachagan Kosyan, said on Wednesday that during the trial he will petition the court to throw out the accusations leveled against his client. He claimed that the latter is unfairly prosecuted for only relaying a “verbal order” issued by Karapetyan to another Agriculture Ministry official.

Karapetian headed the ministry during the alleged embezzlement. The high-profile criminal case is reportedly based on his incriminating testimony against Sarkisian and Beglaryan.

According to Beglaryan’s lawyer, Nikolay Hakobyan, the ex-minister stood by that testimony when he and the wealthy businessman were brought face to face and interrogated by the SIS earlier this month.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Hakobyan described as “baseless” investigators’ claims that his client “prodded” Sarkisian to have the fuel supply contract awarded to his firm.

Sarkisian’s lawyers and the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) still headed by the 65-year-old ex-president strongly deny the embezzlement charges. They say that he is prosecuted in retaliation for his public criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Sarkisian, who ruled Armenia from 2008-2018, accused Pashinyan’s government of jeopardizing democracy and stifling dissent in a November 20 speech at a congress of the European People’s Party held in Croatia. He had kept a low profile since resigning in April 2018 amid mass protests against his continued rule led by Pashinian.

Pashinyan has repeatedly implicated Sarkisian, his family and political entourage in corruption both before and after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution.”

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