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Former Armenian President to the court on charges of corruption

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Tuesday begins in Yerevan, the trial of former Armenian President Serge Sarkissian on charges of embezzlement of public funds, nearly two years after a popular uprising that removed him from power.

Sarkisian, 65, was charged in December and banned from leaving the territory of the former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus, and faces a sentence of up to eight years if convicted.

According to the Public Prosecution, the former president participated in setting up a mechanism that allowed a private company to sell fuel at higher prices, far behind the market, for a government aid program for the agricultural sector.

Prosecutors confirm that the profits from this deal, which amounted to 489 million dirhams (946 million euros at the current exchange rate), were distributed to senior officials and businessmen involved in the case.

While the accusation did not provide any evidence confirming that Sarkisian directly took part of this money, the former President and his political party denounced a “fabricated case aimed at silencing the opposition” and endangering democracy.

After being hidden from view since his resignation in 2018, Sarkisian returned to the forefront with the start of the investigation and became the target of criticism by Prime Minister Nicole Pashinyan.

Sarkisian was born in the separatist Nagorno Karabakh region, which is still fighting a war against neighboring Azerbaijan, and held several major positions in the country before he became president between 2008 and 2018.

A popular uprising

In April 2018, his attempt to take over as Prime Minister after strengthening his powers, faced a strong opposition movement that gathered tens of thousands of people.

Sarkisian’s attempt, which was nearing the end of his second presidential term, embodied the frustration of the citizens of this poor country, which is about three million people, and suffers from a fragile economy and rampant corruption in many sectors.

After weeks of peaceful mobilization led by Nicole Pashinyan, who was then deputy, Sarkisian was forced to resign under popular pressure, prompting thousands to take to the street to celebrate his departure.

After that, Nicole Pachinyan was elected Prime Minister and launched an anti-corruption campaign.

Sarkisyan began political work in the Communist Party, and it was known that he joined the Armenian separatists who were fighting the Azerbaijani army in Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s.

This conflict, which has not been settled, has left more than thirty thousand dead, and often marks a heavy exchange of fire along the front.

After Sarkisian was elected in 2008, clashes took place between the police and opposition activists, who condemned electoral fraud. This was one of the worst confrontations in modern Armenian history, killing ten people, including two policemen.

During his two presidential terms, Sarkisian sought to find a balance in his policy between the West and Moscow, the former capital of the days of the Soviet Union.

In 2013, after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he refused to sign a long-negotiated partnership agreement with the European Union, and instead chose to join the Kremlin-backed Eurasian Economic Union.

Sarkisian also tried in vain in the beginning of his first term to normalize relations between Yerevan and Turkey, which was deteriorated due to the issue of the extermination of the Armenians by the Ottomans during the First World War.

Former President Robert Kocharian is also facing criminal prosecutions for his suspected fraud of the 2008 elections in favor of Sarkisian, who succeeded him.

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