Former Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan

YEREVAN — The National Security Service (NSS) confirmed on Thursday that it has arrested former Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan in an ongoing criminal investigation into supplies of allegedly faulty ammunition to Armenia’s armed forces.

In a statement, the NSS said that Tonoyan and Davit Galstyan, an arms dealer also arrested late on Wednesday, are accused of fraud and embezzlement that cost the state almost 2.3 billion drams ($4.7 million).

Later in the day a court in Yerevan allowed the NSS to hold Tonoyan in detention pending investigation. A lawyer for the former minister said he denies the accusations and will therefore appeal against the decision.

“The criminal case contains plenty of information that disproves the accusations,” Sergei Hovannisyan told journalists.

Galstyan also protested his innocence during a separate court hearing on his pre-trial arrest.

Galstyan owns several firms that have for years sold weapons and ammunition to the Armenian military. He was already arrested in February on charges of supplying the military with unusable artillery shells worth $1 million. Armenia’s Court of Appeals released the businessman reputedly close to Tonoyan from custody four months later.

It was not immediately clear whether or not Tonoyan, who served as defense minister from 2018-2020, will plead guilty to the accusations.

The NSS statement said that criminal proceedings have also been launched against other serving and retired military officials as part of “large-scale operational-investigative measures” taken by its investigators. It did not name those officials.

A deputy chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Lieutenant-General Stepan Galstan, was summoned to the NSS for questioning late on Wednesday. According to the Hraparak newspaper, investigators searched his and Tonoyan’s apartments.

In what appears to be a related development, the NSS also arrested late last week the commander of Armenia’s Air Force. It claimed that the general abused his powers to arrange for personal gain a $4.7 million contract for the supply of outdated rockets to the armed forces.

According to the security service, the Defense Ministry had refused to buy the same batch of rockets from a private intermediary in 2011.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian appointed Tonoyan was apponted defense minister immediately after the Velvet revolution in May-April 2018  that toppled Armenia’s longtime leader, Serzh Sarkisian.

Tonoyan was sacked in November 2020 less than two weeks after a Russian-brokered agreement stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Some senior ruling party parliamentarians blamed him for Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war.

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