On the night of May 7, at around 11.30 pm, National Security Service (NSS) agents arrested former Foreign Minister and founder of the Civil Disobedience Movement Alexander Arzoumanian as he returned home.
On May 10, the Court of First Instance for the Central and Nork Marash districts (Judge A. Lalayan presiding) sustained the request by the NSS to imprison Arzoumanian for two months. Arzoumanian is currently being held at the Central penitentiary institution (colloquially called “the KGB basement”).
The NSS has charged Arzoumanian in connection with Article 190, Part 3, Point 1 of the Criminal Code – money laundering.
The NSS had searched the apartments of Arzoumanian, former Deputy Defense Minister Vahan Shirkhanyan, and writer Artyom Khachatryan on May 5. According to the NSS, all three individuals have been linked to Levon Markos, a business and Russian citizen who remains under investigation in Armenia for illegal financial activity.
Khachatryan was in Moscow on April 12-13, where he met Markos. Arzoumanian and Shirkhanyan were in Moscow on April 24-26, according to the NSS, where they met Markos and arranged for the transfer of US $180,000 to Yerevan. According to the NSS, that money was transferred in small amounts to nine individuals through Converse Bank, but was intended for Arzoumanian and Shirkhanyan.
The NSS is convinced that Levon Markos had certain plans for the election period in Armenia, which he had hoped to realize with the help of Arzoumanian and his supporters' Civil Disobedience movement, using the US $180,000.
This is a scenario very similar to the criminal cases registered against Zhirayr Sefilyan and Vardan Malkhasyan. They have been held since December 2006 in NSS detention centers and stand accused of planning and inciting a violent revolution. The NSS has been hemming and hawing over the case for six months without any progress, proving that they have simply been fulfilling the political plans of those “higher up.” The people behind this probably decided that it would be best to neutralize any action by Sefilyan and Malkhasyan before and after the elections, as they have also now done against Arzoumanian, who had declared that he was determined to oppose any electoral fraud, and had the financial means to take action.
Vahan Shirkhanyan, who had received financial aid from abroad, said that the fact that he had been on the same plane to and from Moscow with Arzoumanian was a coincidence. NSS agents confiscated US $28,000 found at his house.
“He was on the same plane when I flew to Moscow. He was also there on my flight back. So they concluded that we traveled together. They're writing about money – big figures – but I don't know what that is all about, but since they've found two people in Shirkhanyan and Arzoumanian who would be convenient culprits they're saying, ‘Aha, we've got the ones who were going to oppose us and had money transferred for this purpose.' Their thinking is that this was enough money for us to organize a revolution. They're so scared of losing power that they're not going to let anything stop them,” Vahan Shirkhanyan told A1+. He also said that he had received money from friends in Moscow (but not Levon Markos) for his daughter's wedding and the establishment of an NGO called the Armenian Shanghai Club.
Arzoumanian, who in contrast to Shirkhanyan, refused to make a statement to the NSS, said that he had been to Moscow to attend the funeral of First Russian President Boris Yeltsin and had not met Levon Markos.
On May 9, Hetq received a letter from Sashik Aghazaryan, a friend of Arzoumanian's in Moscow. “It was with extreme surprise and concern that I learned of the illegal action of the Armenian government against my friend Alexander Arzoumanian. When he was in Moscow, Alexander Arzoumanian asked me for financial assistance. Taking into consideration our friendship over the years and his great assistance to me in the past, I decided that I had to help him out. I don't deny that. The government's accusations about laundering that absolutely ‘clean' money which I sent my friend seem ludicrous. I do not deal in politics. But I cannot stand idly by in this case. What is happening in my historic homeland is shameful. I appeal to the Armenian government to return the money confiscated from Arzoumanian immediately and to end this deliberate persecution.”
Let us clarify a few points in the NSS charges.
The National Security Service characterized the amount transferred from Moscow as belonging to Levon Markos and being “of suspicious origin.” Let us suppose that they have evidence and documents testifying to this; does that also mean that Arzoumanian was aware of this and consciously chose to deal in money laundering of sums obtained illegally (supposedly to use it for some vague intentions before the elections) in a small country like Armenia, where nothing escapes the watchful eye of the leadership and their subordinate organs? The Armenian authorities perhaps want to see this absurd idea as reality and convince society of its verity.
The NSS's methods can be considered unprofessional and even laughable. How is it possible that the NSS can announce that Arzoumanian and Shirkhanyan are linked to Markos and that they met in Moscow, while the very same NSS, even in cooperation with security agencies in Russia, cannot have the “elusive” Markos – under investigation since 2005 - brought back to Armenia, even though they are well aware of his circle of friends and acquaintances here?
The NSS probably also knows that Markos transfers money to those friends regularly. Does this state body not consider those sums to be “of suspicious origin?” Why has only Alexander Arzoumanian been arrested? What about Vahan Shirkhanyan? Did the NSS not announce that he too had received money from Markos? It is just that Arzoumanian, unlike the others, refused to testify during the investigation saying, “I refuse to answer any questions because they are accusatory in nature. If there is an accusation, then charges must be made and appropriate measures must be taken; otherwise I refuse to testify.” The NSS responded to this by arresting the disobedient Arzoumanian.
One more thing must be noted. The Armenian authorities usually react pathologically to the fact that citizens with oppositional views can receive financial assistance from abroad, just like everyone else. “Kocharyan and Sargsyan are terrified of the fact that sums of money might enter Armenia which may then be used to oppose them. Their aim is to have every last cent under their supervision,” said Vahan Shirkhanyan.
Thus, the NSS must now prove in this criminal case that it was Levon Markos who transferred the money to Arzoumanian and Shirkhanyan, that the money was illegal in origin, that Arzoumanian and Shirkhanyan were aware of this, and that this sum was to be used for political purposes.
But it is highly likely that the course of this case will not differ much from the stagnated cases against Sefilyan and Malkhasyan, which seem set to continue as arranged by the government, until emotions cool down after the elections.