On June 21, a Yerevan Court decided that the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), Gagik Tsarukyan will not be held in pre-trial detention.
Tsarukyan is charged with Article 154.2 of Armenia’s Criminal Code, which involves vote buying, accepting a bribe in return for a vote, violating the ban on charity during elections or obstructing the free will of the voter. The maximum penalty is five years of imprisonment. The case pertains to the 2017 parliamentary elections.
Immediately following the court session, Tsarukyan’s lawyer Erem Sargsyan said that he was pleased that the judiciary has found the strength to rise above politics and deliver a proper judgment. Sargsyan said that he expects the Prosecutor General to appeal the decision.
After the National Assembly voted to strip Tsarukyan of his parliamentary immunity on June 16 [for a summary on the parliamentary proceedings, see below], the National Security Service (NSS) filed a motion to a Yerevan court to hold Tsarukyan in pretrial detention. The court hearing started on June 17.
Tsarukyan and his Prosperous Armenia Party have said the charges are fabricated, politically motivated and that the Government is trying to blackmail him after he criticized the country’s leadership and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his Government because they have mishandled the coronavirus response and failed to deliver a single promise made to the people.
– PAP has announced plans to form a parliamentary committee that will look into the Government’s strategy and actions aimed at mitigating the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to clarify whether the decisions of the Government and the Special Commission were timely and legal. The opposition party is also planning to apply to the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Government decision to ban rallies during the State of Emergency (SOE). PAP, which holds 25 seats in Parliament, needs 33 signatures to form a parliamentary committee and 27 to apply to the Constitutional Court. The party’s spokesperson said they are in negotiations with the opposition Bright Armenia faction, which holds 17 seats in parliament, so that they have the required number of signatures for both of their initiatives.
– Edmon Marukyan, the leader of Bright Armenia party responded to PAP’s announcement saying his political team first spoke about the need to form a parliamentary committee about a month ago. He clarified that they will join PAP’s initiative, only if a member of their faction chairs the committee. Marukyan also spoke about PAP’s second initiative and said that before applying to the Constitutional Court, they can try to address the problem within Parliament. He said that they can join forces with Prosperous Armenia, hold a session in the National Assembly and discuss the possibility of canceling a particular requirement introduced by the SOE. Marukyan said, however, his party is not interested in joining PAP’s calls for the government’s resignation.
– The Human Rights Defender’s Office issued a statement criticizing police actions against Prosperous party MPs and supporters, when (on June 14) they held a sit-down in front of the NSS, in support of their leader. More than 90 protesters were detained that day. Several others were also detained later while protesting in front of parliament. The statement also said that the Ombudsman’s Office is closely following the criminal proceedings against Tsarukyan. As mentioned earlier, the law on the state of Emergency prohibits protests and public gatherings in the country during a SOE.
– Several political parties issued statements expressing their support for the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party. The ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, Hayreniq and One Armenia parties issued a joint statement saying that the criminal cases against Tsarukyan are politically motivated and were launched only after his criticism of the Government’s handling of the pandemic. The Republican Party of Armenia also issued a statement without mentioning Tsarukyan and noted that the country is in crisis not just because of the pandemic but also because of the political situation.
– During a Q/A season on June 17 with members of Government, PM Nikol Pashinyan spoke about the charges against Tsarukyan and said that it is one of the most important criminal cases since independence. Pashinyan also addressed the criticism by the Prosperous Armenia Party and other opposition forces, who claim that the charges are politically motivated. He said his government does not have a problem of legitimacy (as the previous government did) and does not need to use criminal cases to control certain political powers. Pashinyan stressed that law enforcement bodies should reveal all cases of election fraud one by one and that the Republican Party has not been left out of the process as some critics have pointed out.
– In connection to the criminal cases filed, former PAP parliamentarian Abraham Manukyan was arrested, although the National Security Service did not clarify the reasons for his arrest. While in parliament, Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan mentioned that Sedrak Arustamyan [the executive director of Multi Group who is charged as part of three different criminal cases] and Abraham Manukyan were responsible for the PAP’s finances during the 2017 parliamentary election. The two coordinated the process of how bribes were distributed to voters. Between 2003-2007 Manukyan was a Republican MP, while from 2012-2018 was a member of Parliament as part of the Prosperous Armenia faction.
– The Russian Embassy in Armenia issued a statement saying that the ambassador Sergei Kopirkin had a meeting with two PAP members of Parliament, Vahe Enfiajyan and Mikayel Melkumyan. The statement said that the parties discussed issues regarding the development of Armenian-Russian inter-parliamentary ties as well as the political developments in the country.
On Sunday, June 14, following a search by the National Security Service at Gagik Tsarukyan’s home outside of Yerevan, he was summoned to the NSS, where he was questioned for about nine hours. On the same day, the NSS issued statements announcing the opening of three criminal cases relating to Tsarukyan’s political party and businesses owned by him. They include:
Voter Fraud: According to the charge, a group of Prosperous Armenia Party members distributed vote bribes ahead of the 2017 parliamentary election. Hundreds of millions of Armenian drams were handed out to secure votes for the party and for the party’s candidates. The statement also said that, during the investigation, over four dozen searches were conducted and the NSS had confiscated computers and documents, which contain detailed information about the funds allocated for vote buying and analysis of the number of votes that were secured. Although Tsarukyan’s name was not explicitly mentioned in this statement, it did say that the party’s leadership was involved in the process.
Illegal activities with regard to Tsarukyan’s Shangri La casino which was allegedly operating without a proper license, causing the state over $61 million in damages. Also, the illegal activities of the casino allegedly obstructed an investment project worth over 40 billion AMD ($83 million).
Illegal appropriation of state property: According to the NSS, officials of the Arinj community used their official positions for personal benefit and leased 7.5 hectares of agricultural land to New Company LLC, which belongs to Tsarukyan. The statement notes that the head of the community later legalized the illegal constructions built on the agricultural land, after which the area was sold to the same company. Over 378 million AMD (almost $800,000 US) was not transferred to the community budget.
Parliamentary Session [June 16]
Today, June 16, Gagik Tsarukyan, leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), was stripped of his parliamentary immunity via secret ballot [in a vote of 87 to 0] to allow Armenia’s Prosecutor General to file criminal charges. In a second secret ballot, as per the request of the Prosecutor General, parliament approved holding Gagik Tsarukyan in detention [in a vote of 87 to 0].
A day earlier, the Prosecutor General’s office submitted petitions to the National Assembly to institute criminal charges as well as a vote to remove his immunity. Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia boycotted the vote.
Tsarukyan is charged with a variety of criminal activities, including licensing infractions and engaging in illegal commercial activities, deceptive practices with regard to land allocation and coordinated voter fraud that implicates the entire party apparatus.
As per parliamentary procedure:
- The Prosecutor General presents the case to parliament
- MPs are given the opportunity to ask questions
- The person in question [in this case Gagik Tsarukyan] is given an opportunity to address the charges
- MPs are allowed to ask him questions
- Time is provided for additional comments
- The leaders of the three factions in parliament are given the opportunity for closing remarks
- The vote takes place by secret ballot
Artur Davtyan, Armenia’s Prosecutor General Addresses Parliament
Artur Davtyan, Armenia’s Prosecutor General presented two petitions to the National Assembly, requesting permission to launch criminal charges and to remove Gagik Tsarukyan’s parliamentary immunity from criminal liability.
According to Davtyan, as part of the criminal case initiated for abuse of official power, participation in illegal business activities, bribing an official and accepting a bribe, it was revealed that the Chair of the Urban Development Committee used his official power for his personal interests, received a bribe from construction companies for favorable treatment during 2019. In particular, during the investigation, it was revealed that the Chairman of the Board of Yerevanshin construction company gave a $5,000 bribe to the Chair of the Urban Development Committee in exchange for the title of an Honorary Builder of the Republic of Armenia.
It was during the search conducted at Yerevanshin’s offices, that documents were confiscated containing information about vote buying by the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) in different polling stations of Gegharkunik region ahead of the 2017 parliamentary election. In particular, the documents contained information about funds that were handed out to party’s activists to bribe voters as well as the number of voters from different communities of the Gegharkunik region that had agreed to vote for PAP.
Based on the June 10, 2020, decision of the investigative body, a separate criminal case was launched for vote buying. Davtyan clarified that, according to the testimony of the Chair of the Urban Development Committee, Gagik Tsarukyan offered him to take part in the election, on the condition that he secure 9,000 votes in Gegharkunik region. According to the agreement reached with Tsarukyan, the Chairman of the Committee received money in 10,000-dram notes from Sedrak Arustamyan [the executive director of Multi Group who is charged as part of three different criminal cases] and Abraham Manukyan, who were responsible for the PAP’s finances during the 2017 parliamentary election. Later, the Chairman of the Committee provided regular updates regarding the agreements that he had reached with voters. The Chairman of the Committee received about 90 million AMD [approx. $187,000] from Arustamyan and Manukyan and prepared detailed reports on how the funds were spent.
Davtyan noted that the documents were discovered during the search conducted at the office of Yerevanshin construction company. To secure the promised number of votes, the Chair of the Committee transferred the money to PAP members and activists working in different communities of Gegharkunik region.
On June 14, 2020, two people were already arrested on suspicion of vote buying (Article 154.2 of the Criminal Code). The evidence uncovered during the investigation shows that Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of the Tsarukyan Alliance as well as the President of the PAP, created and led an organized group ahead of the 2017 parliamentary election to secure votes for the party and party’s candidates. The documentation prepared by the group, which primarily consisted of PAP members working in the party’s regional headquarters, includes personal information about the voters (address, passport number, number of people living in the family). According to the documentation, each voter received 10,000 AMD. Over 171 million AMD [approx. $355,000] was distributed to 17,194 voters of Gegharkunik region.
Davtyan also said that the investigation has uncovered evidence proving that the PAP bribed voters during previous elections as well to secure votes for the party and its candidates. The investigation is ongoing.
The Prosecutor General concluded his address to Parliament saying that the evidence discovered during the investigation provides sufficient grounds to charge Tsarukyan for organizing voter fraud ahead of the 2017 parliamentary election to secure votes for the Tsarukyan Alliance and its candidates.
As the Prosecutor General was presenting his motion proposing to strip Gagik Tsarukyan of his parliamentary immunity, several trucks belonging to Multi Group, which is owned by Tsarukyan, closed Acharyan Street in Yerevan. An hour later, a Facebook user posted a video showing how citizens removed the trucks from the middle of the street.
Also, Tsarukyan’s supporters were protesting in front of the National Assembly demanding a stop to the proceedings against him. As of 1:30 p.m., 154 citizens were detained. The Human Rights Defender’s Office issued a statement saying its quick response team is in the police departments where protestors were taken. The statement noted that they will talk with the detained citizens, review the grounds for their arrest as well as reports by the Police.
The statement by the National Security Service (NSS) said that over four dozen searches were conducted and that they had confiscated computers and documents, which contain detailed information about the funds allocated for vote buying and analysis of the number of votes that were secured.
Gagik Tsarukyan’s Address to Parliament
Following questions by Members of Parliament to the Prosecutor General, Gagik Tsarukyan, as per parliamentary procedure, addressed parliament. Below is a non-verbatim translation of that address:
This all started on June 5, when the party [Prosperous Armenia Party] gathered and talked about things as they are in reality from economic, political, social, industrial, agricultural and health perspectives. We did not talk through Facebook, fake accounts, through government employees [GONGOs]. And I demand today that the parliament step into real life from Facebook accounts and fake news. They made promises two years ago and still have nothing to show for it. They have even destroyed what was already in place.
I stood by them from day one. Yes, I provided one third of the vote; yes, I signed the memorandum with Pashinyan when he invited me to, I tried to help with everything in an attempt to make the people’s expectations come true. But you can not lead a country through Facebook and with fake accounts. Today, we are facing an extreme situation in all domains: the fight against the pandemic has failed; it is the fault of the decision-makers.
Everything I’m saying is the truth, let no one say Tsarukyan is doing this for personal gain. They curate numbers for Pashinyan to call [and ask about the situation with the pandemic], but they need to go and see for real, look at what Tsarukyan [he often refers to himself in third person] has done for the fight against the pandemic. Tsarukyan has never shown favoritism to a relative, friend, party member; anyone who needs help, we are ready 24 hours a day to solve problems while you either don’t understand, or are not up for it or are not allowed to.
I’ve brought 20 billion dollars into the country—ask Javatyan, ask Pashinyan— at a 1% interest rate. I did this to make the economic revolution happen but it is not happening. He says [referring to Pashinyan], “poverty is in people’s heads,” is this something a leader should say? Create the conditions for people to make money, you promised. Every revolution to succeed promises that which the people wish to hear. Now the people have been waiting for two years. Now they are carrying out orders, drawing up papers saying Tsarukyan has given bribes. I will not step away from my principles. I love this country and will do everything for it without personal gain. If I have gained from it then consider me a Turk, an Azeri, a traitor. But today, the second political force in the country, the leading opposition force is being accused of bribery. Now you have brought the internal forces out, laying people on the asphalt but before you were saying this is a democracy. Go to the regions, talk to the people, the 88% you had [referring to the parliamentary election results] before is now not even 7%, you have exhausted yourselves.
The pandemic has been around since December of last year. In March, they were still campaigning instead of preparing and opening up hospitals. Now the people are all infected and their advice is to tell them to wear masks. Saying the cause of the pandemic are the people because they are not wearing masks. No, it is you who has failed. I tell you, if this continues, there will be a famine in three months. No one will give you money because you have spoiled all international relations.
You call me in for interrogation but then you also call my son? Be an Armenian, a Christian, take the father but do not go after the son. I’m the owner of those businesses but I do not run them. I’m no longer a businessman. If that is in question, ask the people running the businesses; they will answer. What are you doing bringing out all of the security forces out onto the streets? You should wait. We have not even started rallying yet. We will once the State of Emergency is lifted. All this will end in a couple of months. Remember, you are responsible in front of the people and are now standing on the edge of a cliff.
Following his address, according to parliamentary procedure, MPs had a right to ask questions. However, Tsarukyan refused to answer them. As he left parliament, officers from the National Security Service were waiting to take him in for further questioning.
Addresses by Members of Parliament
A number of Prosperous Armenia Party MPs called on the Prosecutor General to withdraw the request in their speeches. There were even calls for him to resign, reminding him of a previous case when he had submitted a request in early 2018 to strip then-MPs Nikol Pashinyan, Ararat Mirzoyan and Sasun Mikayelyan of their immunity but then, as he confessed, had withdrawn the request after receiving a letter from then-First Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, saying the Prosecutor General has a history of carrying out political orders. References were made to the wording in the official documentation, pointing out that, in 2017, it was not the Prosperous Armenia Party as mentioned in the text, but the Tsarukyan Alliance of parties (which included the PAP and also the Mission Party, currently the junior partner of the My Step Alliance) that was in the running during the 2017 parliamentary election. Much criticism was also voiced regarding material pertaining to the case appearing in the hands of ministers and other government members who have been sharing it on social media.
Closing Remarks by Leaders of the Three Parliamentary Factions
Edmon Marukyan, leader of the Bright Armenia Party (BAP) said his party will refrain from the vote because, despite even a personal dispute with the Prosperous Armenia Party, they believe the case is politically motivated because the fact that Pashinyan signed a memorandum with Tsarukyan, the fact that My Step chose to elect a deputy speaker from the Prosperous Armenia Party and the fact that many from the ruling party, including Nikol Pashinyan, attended Tsarukyan’s son’s wedding shows that they considered Tsarukyan’s party to be legitimate until just recently. Marukyan also reminded the parliament of the Vartan Oskanian case, who, being the number two name of the PAP list, was stripped of parliamentary immunity in 2012 to face money laundering charges when he had become a viable presidential candidate. But proving the case was politically motivated, charges against Oskanian were later dropped.
Naira Zohrabyan, an outspoken voice among the Prosperous Armenia parliamentary faction, said in her closing remarks that she promises that this case, including the “child” who is now the head of the National Security Service will soon find themselves facing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). She said the Prosecutor General failed to present any basis for charging Gagik Tsarukyan and that the papers he presented are not facts and she feels sorry that a lawyer of his caliber has been forced into a ludicrous situation. According to Zohrabyan, this marked the end of his career and that her party is starting the process of expressing a vote of no confidence to the Prosecutor General, knowing that he is a vindictive person and will start the process of accusing her and other party members of made up charges.
Zohrabyan also complained about being wiretapped, saying the new head of the NSS has announced that she is being accused of saying “No one votes for Prosperous Armenia; we have to buy the votes,” which according to the head of NSS is a citation that emerged after investigating Naira Zohrabyan’s communication. Zohrabyan said this indicates that they have illegally tapped her phone for over two years. She said that she will be involving her friend in the ECHR in the matter as well.
Deputy Speaker Alen Simonyan spoke on behalf of the ruling My Step faction. Simonyan thanked the citizens who on their own accord have been freeing the streets of the Multi Group trucks. He said much has been said that warrants an answer; however, very little of that has to do with the matter at hand, which is to once and for all be able to find out if vote buying occurred in the 2017 election or not. Simonyan said his colleagues form Prosperous Armenia have been reminding the government of the millions in investments made by Tsarukyan but no one wants to mention the source of the money.
Speaker of Parliament, Ararat Mirzoyan’s Concluding Remarks
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” Mirzoyan said adding that, when a leader of a political party is being accused of something this grave, it is very easy to fall into the trap of politicizing the process. Mirzoyan said he is suggesting to differentiate the political from the legal. Mirzoyan said he personally and many from the My Step faction have their opinions about Tsarukyan as a political figure and a parliament member however they will refrain from voicing those opinions at this point to make sure there is no opportunity for anyone to interpret these opinions as political insinuations or a violation of Tsarukyan’s presumption of innocence. Having said this, Mirzoyan added that the political side of things should not be completely ignored. It is easy to make political announcements demanding the resignation of the government when you already know that an investigation is underway which might lead to the discovery of one’s own participation in an unlawful act. To understand which of these two events came first, Mirzoayan said it suffices to take a look at the timetable. Is it pleasant to hear calls of resignation? No, but Mirzoyan said each citizen of Armenia has the right to make such an announcement. The revolution fought for democracy and for everyone’s right to free speech without fear of repercussions.
Mirzoyan also thanked all those who have created jobs in Armenia and helped vitalize the country’s economy while they themselves profit as well; there is nothing wrong with that. However, Mirzoyan said this does not mean that it is acceptable to blackmail the government, threatening the closure of jobs, the cancelation of investments and steering clear of responsibility before the law. Everyone is equal before the law. We hope that the investigation will show that Gagik Tsarukyan is innocent of the accusations made against him. If that happens, we will welcome our colleague back. If the opposite is proven, then just like any other Armenian citizen, there should be responsibility before the law.
Prosecutor Artur Davtyan’s Concluding Remarks
I know full well my responsibility, and the meaning of this process that has been launched. As much as the comments in parliament were politicized and emotional, I will not respond in a similar manner.
Today and in the future, when any Prosecutor General comes to parliament with the same request, there will always be severe opposition.
Everyone is equal before the law and anyone committing a crime will face the consequences. The petition is a legal document and the process is legal. Regarding evidence being released and published on social media, I reiterate, if there has been any illegal leak of evidence, those involved will be punished before the law.
Votes Conducted by Secret Ballot
Out of 132 Members of Parliament, only 87 members voted [87 in favor, 0 against] to strip Tsarukyan of immunity. The Prosperous Armenia Party and Bright Armenia Party boycotted the vote.
Prosecutor General Presents Grounds for Detaining Tsarukyan
After the vote to strip Tsarukyan of his parliamentary immunity, the Prosecutor General presented the grounds for detaining Tsarukyan to parliament. Davtyan said primary investigation has shown that there is sufficient evidence that Gagik Tsarukyan, as leader the the Tsarukyan Alliance of parties and president of the Prosperous Armenia Party, during the 2017 parliamentary elections, in order to procure votes for the candidates on the Alliance’s list, has created and led an organized group, which in its financial reports presented lists of voters who have been paid for their vote, including their names, passport number, family members and the amount paid, which was 10,000 AMD per person. The evidence presents sufficient grounds to charge Gagik Tsarukyan for vote buying for which the Criminal Code envisages up to five years imprisonment.
Presenting the grounds to keep Tsarukyan in detention, Davtyan said that, given the elaborate structure of the scheme and the number of people who have, as a result, come to be financially dependent on Tsarukyan, his own influence over the team involved in the scheme and the considerable financial means available to Tsarukyan, there is reasonable concern that Tsarukyan can influence the course of the investigation.
Votes Conducted by Secret Ballot
In a second secret ballot, with only 87 Members of Parliament taking part in the vote [87 in favor, 0 against], Gagik Tsarukyan will be kept in detention.
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