Armenia puts main opposition leader in two-month detention

A court in Armenia on Friday put the leader of the country’s main opposition party in detention for two months pending his trial on alleged financial crimes, charges he says are politically motivated.

Gagik Tsarukyan, Armenia’s wealthiest politician and the leader of the Prosperous Armenia party, faces accusations of running an illegal gambling business that has deprived the state coffers of some $60 million.

Prosecutors have also accused him of “vote buying” during 2017’s parliamentary election.

Tsarukyan’s lawyer, Samvel Dilbandyan, told AFP that he will appeal against the court ruling which was announced late Friday.

Tsarukyan, who didn’t appear in the courtroom and waited for his arrest outside the building of the national security service, said his prosecution was a “political order” by his nemesis Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

“Those who fulfilled that order will be very soon held responsible,” he told journalists.

Last week, Tsarukyan, 63, announced mass protest rallies against Pashinyan, whom he has accused of mishandling the economy.

In June, lawmakers stripped Tsarukyan of parliamentary immunity and allowed prosecutors to launch a criminal investigation against him.

Pashinyan, a reformist anti-corruption crusader, came to power in 2018 in the wake of mass popular protests and enjoys widespread popularity in Armenia.

Tsarukyan’s prosecution is the latest in a series of high-profile anti-corruption cases initiated by his government.

The pro-Kremlin opposition leader’s party controls 25 seats in the 132-member parliament.

Tsarukyan’s business empire includes hotels, casinos, shopping malls, and the production of furniture.

He has been the president of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee since 2005. (AFP)