Former Armenian Leader Sarkisian Charged With Corruption

YEREVAN -- Armenian authorities have brought corruption charges against Serzh Sarkisian, the former president who was toppled during last year's "Velvet Revolution."

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) on December 4 alleged that Sarkisian "organized the embezzlement by a group of officials" of 489 million drams (just over $1 million) in government funds allocated in 2013 to provide subsidized diesel fuel to farmers.

Sarkisian's office said the former president rejected the accusation, which carries a potential prison sentence of four to eight years.

The former ruling Republican Party of Armenia, of which Sarkisian is the leader, also issued a statement, describing the accusation against the ex-president as "a brazen manifestation of political persecution."

Sarkisian, who ruled Armenia from 2008-18, who was allowed to sign a formal pledge not to leave the country pending investigation, was not immediately taken into custody.

The SIS alleged that Sarkisian interfered in a government tender for a fuel supplier to ensure that it was won by Flash, a company that has long been one of Armenia's main fuel importers.

Flash is owned by Barsegh Beglarian, a businessman believed to have had close ties to the 65-year-old ex-president.

The Armenian government paid Flash over 1.8 billion drams ($3.8 million) as part of the plan designed to help tens of thousands of low-income farmers across the country.

The SIS statement said another private company, Maxhur, was ready to supply the same quantity of diesel fuel at a lower price, which would have saved the government 489 million drams.

It said the government's failure to pick Maxhur amounted to a deliberate embezzlement of public funds ordered by Sarkisian.

Sarkisian resigned from office in April 2018 amid peaceful anti-government protests led by Nikol Pashinian that eventually led to Pashinian becoming prime minister.

Under Pashinian, the new government has expressed desires to end corruption and has pressed charges against former leaders, including Sarkisian and some family members and political allies. The Republican Party has claimed the legal action is politically motivated.

Sarkisian's predecessor, Robert Kocharian, was arrested in July 2018 on coup and bribery charges, which he also rejected as being politically motivated.