A bribe-taking charge has reportedly been filed against former Armenian president Robert Kocharyan.
Kocharyan—already charged with violating Armenia’s constitutional system for actions against demonstrators more than a decade ago—is facing a charge arising from allegations that businesswoman Silva Hambartsumian was forced to pay a bribe to an Armenian minister, Kocharyan's lawyer Aram Orbelian was reported as saying by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on February 12. Hambartsumian told the news outlet last October that she had to pay a $14mn bribe in 2008 to then-environment minister Aram Harutyunian. In January, a court in Yerevan ordered Harutyunian's arrest, but his current whereabouts is unknown.
The prosecution of Kocharyan may have the potential to hurt relations between the post-revolution government in Armenia headed by Nikol Pashinian and the small country’s strategic ally Russia. Russia is concerned at how the Pashinian administration is going after figures of the old establishment. Last August the Kremlin notably reported a phone conversation between Putin and Kocharyan during which the Russian leader congratulated the former Armenian president on his birthday. This move, rare in state diplomacy, led to some analysts speculating that Moscow was underlining its support for Kocharyan. He had lately said that he would return to politics.
“Marti mek” charges
Kocharyan was initially arrested in July last year on charges stemming from his government's deadly use of force in the “Marti mek” (March 1) events against opposition protesters during the final weeks of his 1998-2008 rule.
Pashinian was elected on an anti-corruption and anti-cronyism platform after successfully leading Armenia’s velvet revolution in spring 2018.
Kocharyan, 64, has been accused of illegally ordering Armenian Army soldiers to use force against opposition supporters who were protesting against alleged fraud in the disputed February 2008 presidential election. Eight protesters and two policemen were killed when security forces engaged in clashes with protesters on March 1-2, 2008.
Kocharyan has denied the accusations. Armenia’s current government is pursuing a political “vendetta” against him, he has said.
He was freed last August 13 by an appeals court that ruled the constitution gave him immunity from prosecution in connection with the 2008 violence. Subsequently, despite having announced he was returning to politics, he did not run in the snap December 9 parliamentary elections that brought a crushing victory for the Pashinian-led My Step Alliance.
A court reinstated Kocharyan's pretrial detention two days before the elections. He has been in custody since then.
Pashinian has defended the criminal charges against Kocharyan. He declared last August 17 that “all murderers will go to prison”.