On June 27, the Investigative Board of the National Security Service (NSS) presented a motion to the Court of First Instance of the Kentron and Nork-Marash Municipalities to extend by two months the pre-trial detention of Alexander Arzoumanian, the former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia who was arrested on May 7, 2007 on charges of money laundering. The courts will review the motion, which calls for detaining Arzoumanian till September 7, today, July 2, 2007.
On June 29, during the review proceedings, Hovik Arsenyan, a lawyer representing the former Foreign Minister, repeated his statement that, “the ongoing criminal case against Alexander Arzoumanian is baseless and illegal.”
Arsenyan asserts that in the proceedings regarding case 58205607 initiated by the NSS Investigative Board under which Arzoumanian is charged with money laundering, no corpus delicti has ever been presented.
According to Arsenyan, the defense has been forced to petition the Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Armenia, since the body responsible for investigating the case has either failed to do so, or concealed its findings. And concurrent with Paragraph 18 of the Armenian Criminal Code, regarding the presumption of innocence, it is not the defense that must prove the innocence of the individual charged.
“ I have petitioned the Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Armenia not only to remove this case from the criminal court docket but especially to investigate the basis on which this case was instituted in the first place. Why was Alexander Arzoumanian charged and why was it considered expedient or necessary to have him so detained and thus impede his freedom of movement?” Arsenyan asked. “If, for arguments sake, we accept that the funds were sent, as the NSS claims, by Russian citizen Levon Markos, a businessman under investigation in Armenia, the first step to take would have been to certify whether these funds were ‘suspicious' in nature. If that indeed was the case, then the financial transgression occurred in the jurisdiction of Russia and not Armenia. Given this, there hasn't been any violation of any branch of Armenian law by Arzoumanian. Furthermore, according to the law, a receiver of funds would have to know beforehand of their ‘suspicious' nature and it would be that person's responsibility to declare them as such. In this criminal case these two elements of the corpus delicti are absent.”
Attached to the petition presented by the defense to the Chief Prosecutor is a letter of recommendation on behalf of the Heritage Party in the National Assembly requesting that means other than jail detention be substituted in Arzoumanian's pre-trial period.
Lawyer Hovhannes Arsenyan notes that today, according to the Criminal Code, a person arrested on any sort of charge, can forego pre-trial detention by paying a security pledge. During the pre-trial proceedings Arsenyan presented a letter signed by 19 Parliament members petitioning the substitution of Arzoumanian's jail detention by other means. (A partial list of signatories: Khachadur Soukiasyan, Viktor Dallakyan and Grigori Margaryan (all independents); Raffi Hovannisyan, Larisa Alaverdyan, Anahit Bakhshyan (Heritage Party); Artur Baghdasaryan, Mher Shahgeldyan, Heghineh Bisharyan, Hovhannes Margaryan (Rule of Law); Murad Guloyan (Prosperous Armenia); Alvard Petrosyan (ARF). This petition will be brought to the attention of the Kentron and Nork-Marash Courts of First Instance.
But, Arsenyan said, “I'm certain that the courts will not take the Parliament Members' petition into consideration since the courts are not independent and do not defend the rule of law.”
In an open letter addressed to the Armenian authorities, Sashik Aghazaryan, a citizen of Russia and friend of Arzoumanian, declared that the money transferred to Arzoumanian was absolutely “clean”. Soon after, Arzoumanian's defense team petitioned and won the right to question Aghazaryan regarding the source and transfer of these funds.
Arsenyan mentions that, “The NSS Investigative Board has circulated a memorandum stating that investigators have been sent to Russia to uncover the source of the funds, the purpose of the transfer, and other related matters. This goes to show how fabricated the charges really are and that the whole affair is founded solely on assumptions. Had the NSS obtained the evidence necessary to prove Levon Markos sent the funds, then they wouldn't have sent their investigators out nor would they have accepted our petitions. This further attests to the veracity of our claims.”
When again asked if he wanted to offer testimony in court regarding the charges brought against him, Arzoumanian responded that he had heard of Sashik Agazaryan's statement regarding the funds through the media and that his defense team had petitioned the court to have Aghazaryan brought in for questioning. Arzoumanian concluded by saying that if the NSS interrogated Aghazaryan the groundless nature of the case would be revealed.
On July 19, Melissa Brown, Arzoumanian's wife, was granted a private meeting with Armenia's Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. Brown noted that she attended the meeting without any prior expectations. “ I didn't go to ask for anything. I merely handed over the open letter that people had signed. I had two questions: what was the Prime Minister's explanation for the case and what was his advice? I accepted neither. His advice to me was not to have any contact with journalists, members of parliament or political parties. Why, I cannot say...”
The day after this meeting, June 20, the NSS prohibited Arzoumanian from seeing anyone but his lawyer. Arsenyan says that the law allows such visits once every 15 days but that the examining court doesn't feel obliged to reverse this decision.
While Melissa Brown received the news prohibiting visits with her husband with surprise and anguish, she remains hopeful that this situation won't last long. “Nelson Mandela spent 27 years behind bars and his wife only saw him three times. If they were able to endure, so shall we.”
Neither Hovik Arsenyan nor Melissa Brown has any hopes that the court will reject the petition of the National Security Service.
P.S. Today, the Courts of the First Instance of the Kentron and Nork-Marash municipalites sustained the motion of the Natioanl Security Service to extend the detention of Alexander Arzoumanian until September 7th.