https://www.rferl.org-By Naira Bulghadarian
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.