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Former Armenian defense minister has been charged with abuse of power

Vigen Sargsyan, a former Armenian defense minister who was the former ruling Republican Party’s top candidate in last year’s general elections, has been charged with abuse of power, it was announced on Wednesday.

The Investigative Committee claimed that Sargsyan violated government rules for the distribution of government-funded housing to Armenian army officers and their families when he served as defense minister.

In a statement, the law-enforcement agency said that in January 2018 Sargsyan personally allocated 29 apartments to families, bypassing a Defense Ministry commission which is supposed to make such decisions. It said he also ordered the commission to give other apartments to servicemen chosen by him.

Sargsyan was indicted on two counts of abuse of power punishable by heavy fines and up to four years in prison, said the statement.

The committee added that it has sent the case to another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), for further investigation. It did not specify whether it will seek or recommend the former minister’s arrest.

Sargsyan, who now lives and studies in the United States, rejected the accusations as politically motivated, saying that the Armenian authorities are keen to “deal yet another blow to the standing of the Armenian Armed Forces and army top brass.”

In a Facebook post, Sargsyan also condemned the investigators for not notifying him about the accusations before announcing them. He said they could have easily contacted him by e-mail or phone.

Sargsyan gave no indications that he is ready to cut short his post-graduate studies and return to Armenia. He said he has authorized a lawyer to contact the SIS “represent me in further processes.”

“I am outraged but also calm because individuals involved in the apartment distribution saga and the process investigated in this separate case, including those who received and did not receive apartments, are well aware that the process was carried out in accordance with the law, clear principles and standards,” added Sargsyan.

The Republican Party (HHK) did not immediately react to the indictment. The HHK, which is headed by former President Serzh Sargsyan, has previously accused the current Armenian authorities of prosecuting former senior officials for political reasons.

Sargsyan, 44, worked as a top aide to Serzh Sargsyan before being appointed as defense minister in October 2016. He was widely regarded as the latter’s potential successor.

The former president was forced to resign in April 2018 amid nationwide anti-government street protests led by Nikol Pashinian. Vigen Sargsyan stepped down immediately after Pashinian was elected prime minister in May 2018.

Sargsian was named the HHK’s first deputy chairman in November and topped the party’s list of candidates in the snap parliamentary elections held the following month. During the election campaign he strongly criticized Pashinian’s government and portrayed the HHK as the only political force that can hold it in check.

Pashinian’s My Step bloc won the polls by a landslide, whereas the former ruling party narrowly failed to clear a 5 percent vote threshold to enter Armenia’s new parliament.

Sargsyan holds a master’s degree from the U.S. Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He taught international relations and public administration at the American University of Armenia form 2001-2011.