Oskanian undaunted in face of prosecution, calls Prosecutor-General’s move ‘politically motivated’

Oskanian undaunted in face of prosecution, calls Prosecutor-General’s move ‘politically motivated’

Photolure

Lawmaker Vartan Oskanian has pledged to continue his political fight despite the prospect of being prosecuted. Late yesterday Attorney General Aghvan Hovsepyan asked the National Assembly for its approval to treat Oskanian as a defendant, rather than a witness in a controversial case on charges of money laundering.

At issue is whether the Civilitas Foundation – led by Oskanian until his resignation last February – criminally mishandled money originating from U.S. businessman Jon Huntsman, estimated at about $2 million.

Following yesterday’s announcement from Hovsepyan’s office, a spokesperson told media that the issue of rescinding Oskanian’s parliamentary immunity was not explicit by the petition to parliament. Armenian law, however, categorically states that no Member of Parliament can be prosecuted for a crime – begging the question then, of what the purpose of the Attorney General’s action was, if not to in fact strip Oskanian of his immunity.

A vote by his colleagues in Parliament would be necessary for rescinding Oskanian’s immunity. So far, no vote has been called for. Given the contentiousness currently existing between Oskanian’s Prosperous Armenia Party, and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia and its junior partner Orinats Yerkir, numbers do not favor Oskanian. A simple majority (secret ballot) vote would be necessary to take away Oskanian’s parliamentary privilege; likely opponents hold 75 votes, while PAP and potential allies hold 56.

(The last time such a vote was taken it involved several oppositionist lawmakers who were prosecuted in connection with March 1, 2008 rioting.)

Oskanian, who joined the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) in February, has so far been considered a witness in the National Security Service-led criminal investigation. The member of the second largest parliamentary faction described the petition by the prosecutor-general as a “politically motivated” move.

Oskanian repeatedly has stated that the criminal investigation is a retribution for his hard-hitting criticism of the government in the lead-up to the last May’s parliamentary elections.

“It was clear to me from the very first day when the National Security Service started the criminal proceedings because the criminal case lacks any juridical content,” Oskanian writes on his Facebook page. “I have not received the petition yet, that’s why I don’t want to guess what the accusations will be. So far it was about ‘money laundering’, ‘maliciously evading tax obligations’ and ‘embezzlement of funds’. I won’t be surprised if there are other absurd accusations.”

The PAP lawmaker says, however, he is ready to fight on.

“For me this is a new phase of political battle. This is not my way of struggle, but I am ready to struggle till the end. If this is intended to restrain my political activity and silence my criticism of the government that has failed in all areas, I can state that the authorities have failed in their calculations, too.”

Oskanian’s lawyer also called the recent development an instance of political persecution and apparent scorn towards Oskanian. He also says a law has been broken in the process.

“Under the National Assembly regulations, the chairman of the National Assembly, after receiving a petition from the Prosecutor-General regarding stripping a member of parliament from his or her immunity, must immediately inform members of parliament about this, which is something that hasn’t been done in this particular case, and, in fact, the law has been violated,” the lawyer said.

The PAP is expected to react to the development later today.