Key Witness In Armenia Vote-Buying Case Denies Accusations
By Naira Bulghadarian August 18, 2020
YEREVAN -- A key witness in the criminal case against the leader of Armenia's main opposition party has rejected allegations of vote-buying in the 2017 general elections.
In June, Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian, who is also a wealthy businessman, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution and indicted on vote-buying charges he rejects as politically motivated.
The National Security Service (NSS) had earlier announced that it had found evidence incriminating Tsarukian following a search of the offices of a construction company as part of a separate case.
In an interview with RFE/RL on August 17, Vazgen Poghosian, the owner of the Yerevanshin construction company, acknowledged he had received a hefty amount of money from Tsarukian ahead of the 2017 vote.
However, he insisted that the 90 million drams (about $185,000) mentioned by the NSS was intended to cover the costs of the BHK election campaign – not to buy votes.
"All these expenses were [connected to] organizational work – to rent offices, pay people for two months, buy fuel, pay for electricity, water, and sewage, [and] pay for other costs," the 68-year-old businessman said.
Poghosian also rejected a claim by the NSS that he had provided information to law enforcement officials about the alleged vote-buying.
"I have no problems with Tsarukian. All this is a lie.... Tsarukian and I have known each other since 1990. I built his business premises, his casino. I laid the foundations of the church he built. I built all that, and I was paid very generously," he said.
Poghosian is accused in a separate case of giving a bribe to a former chairman of the Urban Development Committee.
As a candidate for the bloc led by Tsarukian in the 2017 elections, Poghosian won a seat in the National Assembly, but he later gave up his parliamentary mandate.
A Yerevan court in June rejected a petition by investigators to arrest Tsarukian in the vote-buying case. Prosecutors have appealed the decision.
Two former BHK lawmakers, Abraham Manukian and Vanik Asatrian, have been charged in the same case. Only Asatrian is under arrest.
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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