An Armenian law-enforcement agency has decided to ask authorities in the United States to extradite a controversial Armenian video blogger charged with extortion, calls for violence and contempt of court.
The blogger, Vartan Ghukasian, is a former police officer nicknamed Dog who emigrated to the U.S. about a decade ago. Ghukasian has attracted a large audience in recent years with his hard-hitting and opinionated comments on events taking place in Armenia. Videos posted by him on YouTube have been watched by hundreds of thousands of Armenians living in and outside the country of about 3 million.
Ghukasian is notorious for routinely using profanities, highly unusual in the Armenian public discourse, to attack both Armenia’s current leaders and their political foes. He signaled political ambitions when he set up last year a party called the Public Voice.
The Investigative Committee claimed recently that Ghukasian demanded $110,000 from Tigran Arzakantsian, a businessman and fringe politician, in return for not making damaging allegations about him and his wife. Arzakantsian refused to pay up and complained to law-enforcement authorities instead, according to the committee.
The blogger allegedly made similar threats to try to extort at least $60,000 from the owner of a night club in Yerevan. He was also charged with making public calls for violence against various politicians and public figures and disrespecting the Armenian judiciary.
A group of Ghukasian’s friends and like-minded individuals in Armenia are facing the same charges. At least one of them is held in detention.
The Armenian police issued this week an international arrest warrant for Ghukasian approved by a Yerevan court. The Investigative Committee said it will ask Interpol to place him on its most wanted list and help arrange his extradition from the U.S.
Ghukasian strongly denied the accusations in a YouTube video posted on Thursday. He specifically dismissed purported screenshots of text messages exchanged by Arzakantsian and a blackmailer and publicized by investigators. He said he can prove that a phone number shown in that correspondence is not his.
The blogger also accused the Armenian authorities of trying to discredit him and mislead the public.