Armenia: Former President Accused of Taking Bribes

Published: 15 February 2019

711px-Robert Kocharyan second President of Armenia 2006 02

Former President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan (Photo: Limegirl, CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Tajna Biscevic

Robert Kocharyan, the former President of Armenia, is facing charges for having allegedly received bribes but his lawyer Aram Orbelyan told OCCRP on Thursday the charges were fake and the defense is suing for libel.

According to Mr. Orbelyan, the charges stem from the accusation of an Armenian businesswoman, Silva Hambardzumyan, who alleged at a press conference in November 2018 that she had to bribe Kocharyan during his presidency to not impede her business activity.

“I arranged a deal with some Arab [businessmen], and to ensure [my business wasn’t impeded upon], I payed both President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan,” Hambardzumyan said.

However, in subsequent interviews, Hambardzumyan made allegations against other members of the former Armenian government, including former Nature Protection Minister Aram Harutyunyan who she says she paid US$ 8 million in return for a mine exploitation license. The minister in question faces charges for both accepting a bribe and for money laundering.

Hambardsumyan herself is also a defendant in a corruption case, and, according to Orbelyan, later retracted her statements against Kocharyan.

The bribery charge is being linked to another charge Kocharyan is facing for violating the country's constitutional order. “It is entirely unclear how this is related … How such [charges can be brought] within the framework of one and the same case,” said Orbelyan.

After having served as president from 1998 to 2008, Kocharyan was arrested in July 2018 when the Armenian Special Investigative Service (SIS) accused him of “overthrowing constitutional order of Armenia” during the final weeks of his rule. He was released from custody after two weeks, but then arrested again in December following another court ruling.

The constitutional violation charges relate to the final weeks of Kocharyan’s final presidential term, when his preferred candidate won the election. The SIS has found that he illegally used Armenian army units against the protesters that took to the streets claiming election fraud. Kocharyan is accused of ordering the use of illegal force against protesters. Eight protesters were killed along with two police officers in the ensuing clashes.

Kocharyan’s other lawyer Ruben Sahakyan claims the case is politically motivated. “We are working with amateurs, because they are fulfilling the political will of the country’s leadership ... This has nothing to do with jurisprudence,” he proclaimed.

Kocharyan believes this charge is politically motivated because Armenia’s current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was a supporter of the candidate who lost the election in 2008.

Pashinyan protested the alleged election fraud, and was forced to go underground for over a year to avoid arrest on mass disturbance charges. After turning himself in in 2010, Pashinyan spent almost two years in jail before being granted amnesty after the government succumbed to international pressure.