Mayor’s Son To Stand Trial For Election Fraud, Violence

The son of an Armenian town mayor will go on trial soon on charges of assaulting an Armenian-American observer in one of the most serious cases of fraud reported during the February 18 presidential election.

The incident took place at a polling station in Artashat, the administrative center of Armenia’s southern Ararat province. Narine Esmaeli, a U.S. citizen of Armenian descent, monitored voting there together with a Yerevan-based observer, representing an Armenian civic group.

The observers say they were attacked by a large group of government loyalists that stuffed hundreds of ballots. Esmaeli has also accused local police officers of bullying her after the incident.

The allegations, picked up by Armenian opposition and civic groups, resulted in the launch of a criminal investigation by the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement agency subordinate to state prosecutors. They also led Armenia’s Constitutional Court to invalidate the official vote results in the troubled Artashat precinct.

In a statement issued this week, the Office of the Prosecutor-General announced that one local man, Sergey Muradian, has been charged with hitting Esmaeli and obstructing her work for vote rigging purposes. The statement said he burst into the polling station together with “a group of individuals” that stuffed the ballots. 

Muradian, who works as a staffer at the Armenian parliament and whose father Gagik is Artashat’s current mayor, will face up to five years’ imprisonment if found guilty by court.

The prosecutors’ statement indicated that law-enforcement authorities will look for the other men involved in the fraud parallel to Muradian’s trial.

The SIS came under fire last month after Esmaeli, who arrived in Armenia last year to intern with the local branch of Transparency International, accused it of blackmailing her with intimate photographs that were taken secretly.

The SIS offered a different version of events, saying that it got hold of a more than 5-hour-long footage taken in the bathroom of Esmaeli’s Yerevan apartment. It claimed that the video was sent to the Central Election Commission by the Europe in Law NGO that monitored the presidential election. Both Europe in Law and Transparency International representatives in Armenia strongly denied that.

The SIS and prosecutors pressed charges against the Artashat mayor’s son in the following weeks.