June 15, 2020 - 12:21 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A four-hour search and a nine-hour questioning by the National Security Service and several criminal cases involving an Armenian lawmaker have intensified political tensions in the country.
The NSS conducted a search at the residence of lawmaker and businessman Gagik Tsarukyan on Sunday, June 14. The man who is considered the wealthiest person in Armenia was then questioned for nine hours, with four criminal cases launched towards the end of the day.
According to the Security Service, a casino belonging to Tsarukyan has caused AMD 30 billion ($62 million) in damages to the state, while his party, Prosperous Armenia, handed out hundreds of millions of drams in election bribes back in 2017.
The two other cases were opened in relation to quarantine violations by demonstrators outside the headquarters of the National Security Service, and land use violations by Tsarukyan.
Mass gatherings are currently banned due to a state of emergency imposed over the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The National Assembly is set to srip Tsarukyan of his parliamentary immunity, opening him to prosecution on several charges
Tsarukyan described the search of his house and the criminal cases initiated by the NSS as blackmail and political persecution.
88 out of Armenia’s 132 lawmakers represent the My Step alliance whose leader is the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan. Tsarukyan’s party, meanwhile, holds 25 seats.
In April-May 2018, Pashinyan, then a lawmaker himself, successfully organized and led a peaceful campaign to force out the Republicans, who were then at the helm of the country. When his “velvet revolution” was almost a success, Tsarukyan joined him and expressed support for the campaign. Several months after Pashinyan became the country’s new Prime Minister, however, Tsarukyan’s party voted in favor of a controversial bill, introduced by the Republicans, who held a majority in the parliament before the snap elections of 2018. The bill was aimed at torpedoing the plans of the new government, including achieving Pashinyan's resignation as Prime Minister, the failure to elect a new head of government and early parliamentary elections.
Their plans failed, however, when Pashinyan urged his supporters to gather in front of the National Assembly and set early parliamentary elections for December 2018.