Armenia’s new guard put Sargsyan-era officials under pressure

Armenia’s new guard put Sargsyan-era officials under pressure
Backers of protest-leader-turned-PM Nikol Pashinian hope he will live up to his anti-corruption billing.
By bne IntelliNews July 2, 2018

Officials and businesspeople linked to Armenia’s Republican Party, which was ousted from power by a ‘people’s revolution’ in May, have been detained in a series of probes in recent weeks, while pressure is mounting on Yeveran mayor Taron Markarian to step down. 

This follows the appointment of a new government led by former protest leader Nikol Pashinian, after former president Serzh Sargsyan was in late April forced from office shortly after taking on the prime minister post in a move intended to prolong his hold on power. 

Government corruption and cronyism were main drivers behind Armenia’s massive street protests which produced what was referred to as a velvet revolution. Ahead of the parliament vote that established him as Sargsyan’s successor as prime minister, Pashinian, who had long campaigned against corruption in the small and impoverished South Caucasian country, insisted there would be “no oligarchs” in the new cabinet. He also pledged to tackle the monopolies that have long dominated Armenia’s economy. 

Still, there were questions as to what extent Pashinian would be able to pursue an anti-corruption agenda once in power. “[T]he sheer complexity of the landscape means putting his anti-corruption, pro-democracy agenda upon inherently unforgiving terrain,” wrote Michael Cecire of New America in a comment for bne IntelliNews shortly after his appointment. 

However, since the eviction of Sargsyan’s Republican Party, there are already signs that law enforcement agencies have been emboldened to take on officials close to the former regime. 

Grigorian’s private zoo
They include MP and former army general Manvel Grigorian, whose home and summer house were raided in mid-June, revealing not only huge stashes of illegal firearms and explosives but army supplies apparently intended for soldiers stationed in the Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region. These included food aid donated by schoolchildren as conflict in the enclave erupted in 2016, which Grigorian had used to feed animals in his private zoo. 

Grigorian has since been stripped of his immunity by the parliament. The investigation has also led to his son — who resigned as mayor of Grigorian’s hometown after the scandal erupted — being charged with theft of vehicles and the detention of Manvel Grigorian’s wife. 

“There will be no compromise with corruption,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashninian wrote on his Facebook page after Grigorian’s arrest. 

Armenia’s National Security Service moved even closer to the former president’s inner circle on June 25, when it arrested both Sargsyan’s brother, Aleksandr Sargsyan, and his former security chief Vachagan Ghazaryan. 

Aleksandr Sargsyan was detained on suspicion of possessing illegal weapons, but released shortly afterwards when the weapons were declared to be legal, Public Radio of Armenia reported. 

Ghazaryan’s detention followed a search of Yans club in Yerevan, which is rumoured to be owned by Ghazaryan, where police found big quantities of cash — $1.1mn, €230,500 and AMD36mn (€64,000), according to local news agency Arka.

Meanwhile, protesters have repeatedly targeted Yerevan mayor Taron Markarian in the past week, following the release of a video by First AntiCorruption Television that included drone footage of Markarian’s lavish property, reports RFE/RL.