YEREVAN — The Armenian parliament voted on Tuesday to allow law-enforcement authorities to arrest and prosecute the leader of its largest opposition group, Gagik Tsarukyan, on charges rejected by him as politically motivated.
Addressing the parliament Prosecutor-General Artur Davtyan alleged that Tsarukyan “created and led an organized group” that bought more than 17,000 votes for his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) during parliamentary elections held in April 2017. Davtyan said the NSS has collected documents and testimony showing that the vote bribes were handed out to residents of the Gegharkunik province.
Tsarukyan and other BHK lawmakers vehemently denied the accusations when they spoke on the parliament floor before the first vote. They said that law-enforcement authorities have not produced any evidence of his involvement in the alleged vote buying.
They again claimed that PM Nikol Pashinyan ordered the criminal proceedings in response to Tsarukyan’s demands for the entire Armenian government’s resignation voiced on June 5.
Immediately after leaving the parliament building, Tsarukyan was surrounded by NSS officers and taken to the NSS headquarters for further questioning. BHK representatives said that the security service illegally detained him before securing the parliament’s consent. Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan insisted, however, that Tsarukyan was not detained.
In his concluding remarks, Davtyan insisted that the criminal case against the opposition leader and wealthy businessman is a “purely legal process.” The chief prosecutor said the NSS opened the case in February, more than three months before Tsarukyan lambasted the government in unusually strong terms.
Both parliamentary opposition forces decided to boycott the ensuing separate votes on lifting Tsarukyan’s immunity from prosecution and allowing his arrest.
As a result, 87 of the 132 deputies of the National Assembly voted in the secret ballot. They all backed the prosecutor’s demands.
As the parliament began debating the matter in the morning the NSS announced that it launched on Monday a separate investigation into other instances of alleged vote buying by the BHK.
In a statement, the security service said that a senior BHK figure, Naira Zohrabyan, has repeatedly admitted in her private conversations that Tsarukyan’s party had paid Armenians to vote for it in various elections. The statement contained a relevant quote attributed to Zohrabyan. It did not specify whether the NSS eavesdropped on the opposition politician’s conversations.