The deputy president of Armenia’s former ruling Republican Party, Armen Ashotyan, has been placed in pre-trial detention for two months after reportedly violating bail conditions banning him from leaving the country.
Ashotyan’s lawyer, Tigran Atanesyan dismissed the accusations, calling the detention ‘political persecution’ and stating that Ashotyan does not accept the charges against him.
Ashotyan is under investigation on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power during his time as minister of education.
According to the investigative committee’s statement on Thursday, Ashotyan caused Yerevan’s Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University property-related financial damage valued at around ֏40 million ($100,000), as well as embezzling ֏186 million ($485,000) from the membership fees of the university’s trade union.
The case concerns the purchase of hotel apartments by the medical university in 2015, when Ashotyan was head of the institution’s board of trustees as well as minister of education.
Ashotyan was minister of education under Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency for seven years, from 2009 to 2016.
Ashotyan has repeatedly dismissed the accusations, but told RFE/RL that while the university had purchased the real estate with the funds of its union, the institution now believed that the property was overpriced at the time it was bought.
‘It is obvious that there is […] plenty of room for debate’, he said.
Mikayel Narimanyan, the former rector of the university, was last year charged under the same criminal case for property-related embezzlement.
In a Thursday statement, the executive body of the Republican Party expressed its support for Ashotyan, similarly terming the case ‘political persecution’.
‘We call on the law enforcement system of the Republic of Armenia and the holders of judicial power to refuse to comply with the illegal instructions given by the political authorities, otherwise they will also fully share the responsibility for the illegal actions taking place’, the statement said.
Around 30 opposition MPs and others gathered in support of Ashotyan on Thursday in front of Yerevan’s anti-corruption court, where the decision to remand Ashotyan to pre-trial detention was being made.