YEREVAN — Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) moved on Tuesday to arrest Gagik Beglaryan, a controversial former government minister and Yerevan mayor, after bringing corruption charges against him.

In a statement, the NSS claimed that Beglaryan illegally privatized a kindergarten building in central Yerevan when he ran the Armenian capital from 2009-2011. Beglaryan paid only 24 million drams ($51,000) to buy the kindergarten, the statement said, adding that the market value of the 200-square-meter property was almost ten times higher.

The statement also said that although a Yerevan court has allowed investigators to arrest Beglaryan, the latter is not in Armenia at the moment. The NSS will try to track him down and seek his extradition, it said.

The security service did not shed more light on the once influential ex-minister’s whereabouts.

A former senior member of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the 56-year-old Beglaryan is no stranger to controversy. He was forced to resign as Yerevan mayor in December 2010 after reportedly assaulting an official from the presidential administration’s protocol unit. The official, Aram Kandayan, incurred Beglaryan’s ire after asking the latter’s wife not to sit next to Sarkisian during an opera concert in Yerevan.

Beglaryan and his bodyguards reportedly kidnapped and beat up Kandayan afterwards. Beglaryan was never prosecuted for what a presidential spokesman condemned as an “unacceptable and intolerable” behavior.

He was on the contrary appointed as transport minister in June 2012. He held that post for four years.

Beglaryan, who is better known as “Black Gago,” used to hold sway in a central Yerevan neighborhood notorious for election-related violence against opposition activists. Opposition groups for years accused him of leading a local clan that rigged elections and bullied the government’s political opponents. Beglaryan and the former ruling HHK always denied those allegations.

Critics of Armenia’s former leadership also claimed that individuals like Beglarian enjoy de facto impunity because Sarkisian heavily relies on them to stay in power.

Sarkisian, his two brothers as well as some of his current and former political allies have been prosecuted for alleged corruption since the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” in Armenia. The ex-president rejects embezzlement charges leveled against him as politically motivated.

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