The pro-government majority in Armenia’s parliament on Wednesday allowed prosecutors to bring criminal charges against Seyran Ohanian, the parliamentary leader of the main opposition Hayastan alliance.
The National Assembly is also scheduled to vote on Thursday on lifting another opposition lawmaker’s immunity from prosecution.
Hayastan and the other parliamentary opposition force, the Pativ Unem bloc, condemned the criminal proceedings as politically motivated. They said that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is thus trying to deflect public attention from his national security failings.
Prosecutor-General Anna Vardapetian asked the parliament for permission to indict Ohanian, who served as Armenia’s defense minister from 2008-2016, in three criminal cases.
Two of those cases stem from the privatization of properties that belonged to the Armenian Defense Ministry. They include two buildings in Yerevan and two abandoned military bases located in southern Ararat province.
Vardapetian claimed that Ohanian had authorized the illegal sale of these properties at knockdown prices. That constituted a “large-scale waste” of public funds and abuse of power, she told lawmakers.
Vardapetian, who served as a legal adviser to Pashinyan before becoming the country’s chief prosecutor last year (see Pashinyan Underling With No Prosecution Experience Chosen as Armenia’s Chief Prosecutor) , confirmed that because of the statute of limitations Ohanian will not receive a prison sentence even if he is convicted of these charges.
The prosecutor presented the other criminal case against Pashinyan behind the closed doors. It stems from alleged supplies of faulty ammunition to the Armenian armed forces which led to the arrest of another former defense minister, Davit Tonoyan, in 2021.
Tonoyan and two army generals denied relevant accusations leveled against them when they went on trial in January 2022. It is not clear that why law-enforcement authorities waited for more than a year before deciding indicting to indict Ohanian as well.
Vardapetian formally asked the parliament to lift Ohanian’s immunity from prosecution on January 20 one day after 15 Armenian soldiers died at their makeshift barracks destroyed by a major fire. The soldiers’ deaths sparked nationwide anger and calls for the resignation of Pashinyan’s current defense minister, Suren Papikian, and even the prime minister himself.
Ohanian linked the deaths to the criminal proceedings sought against him in a video message disseminated on Monday.
“These cases were fabricated long ago but they made the move now to silence the voices of our boys burned down in Vartenis, to distract the public and to stop the wave of anger,” he charged.
Other lawmakers representing Hayastan echoed the allegations. One of them, Gegham Manukian, also argued on Tuesday that the Defense Ministry is now trying to privatize as many as 71 facilities belonging to it.
“Since these are non-functioning military bases, the Defense Ministry does not think it necessary to keep them on its balance sheet,” Manukian said, adding that he sees nothing wrong with that.
Only parliament deputies representing Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party voted to give the green light for Ohanian’s prosecution. All opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.