The US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has just issued Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012.
In the section on freedom of speech and press, under Respect for Civil Liberties, the report refers to the nearly one-year long investigation opened against Vartan Oskanian and involving the Civilitas Foundation. “On May 25, the National Security Service opened an investigation of the former head of the Civilitas Foundation and former foreign minister Vardan Oskanian on suspicion of money laundering, a day after Oskanian’s party, Prosperous Armenia, announced its decision not to join the ruling coalition. The Civilitas Foundation operated one of the largest independent online media outlets, CivilNet, which ran several stories criticizing the administration of the May 6 elections. CivilNet reported that National Security Service agents harassed and followed its reporters and entered its office without appropriate authorization. Many observers described the investigation and its timing after the elections as politically motivated.”
Yesterday, the Deputy Director of the National Security Service Investigative Unit, Mikayel Hambartsumyan, was interviewed on State Television, on the criminal case involving the Civilitas Foundation and its founder, Vartan Oskanian.
The interview was evidence, yet again, of a baseless investigation. During the entire interview, Hambartsumyan set aside his professional responsibilities and attempted to present a distorted reality by manipulating facts and presenting information selectively. We find it unacceptable that an investigator charged with prosecuting a criminal case is forced to divert from his professional responsibilities and carry out a PR campaign.
The Civilitas Foundation Board reasserts that during the time period when a portion of the Huntsman funds, intended for the Civilitas Foundation, were in Vartan Oskanian’s account for the purpose of allocating to the Civilitas Foundation at his discretion, and as necessary, the Board was aware of the existence of the funds and the allocations. The Board has never had any concerns or issues with the availability of funds when they became necessary in order to carry out activities defined by the organization’s Bylaws.
At the time that the criminal case was opened (May 25, 2012), approximately one-third of the funds held by Vartan Oskanian had been transferred to the Civilitas Foundation’s account, based on Civilitas’s needs, and the remainder, including accrued interest, remained under Mr. Oskanian’s discretion.
JUNE 14, 2012
For the past two weeks, the attention and resources of the Civilitas Foundation and CivilNet.am have been diverted from our mission. Rather than focusing on our work to strengthen civil society and offer alternative sources of reliable information, we are responding to questions arising from baseless criminal charges of money laundering and tax evasion.
The National Security Service has been required to abandon its important mission of ensuring real national security, and instead has been forced to engage in a search for some sort of evidence that would justify the conclusions already drawn. It is obvious that all this is intended to obstruct the work of Civilitas and CivilNet.
Civilitas Foundation programs over the past four years have been carried out in strict compliance with the Foundation’s statutes and the laws of the Republic of Armenia. We commission annual audits, as required by law.
To impute criminal intent to any member of the Civilitas board or staff is to send a clear message to the professional, committed, active generation of young Armenians who understand that they have the right and the responsibility to participate in this country’s governance.
Additionally, it is deplorable and unacceptable that the name of Jon Huntsman, a man who has made invaluable contributions and investments in Armenia since even before independence, has been dragged into this case. Are the Armenian authorities really prepared to alienate all those persons and agencies who have passionately participated in Armenia’s democratization and development in the two decades since it regained independence?
The outpouring of support for Civilitas shows that we will work together to protect the rights of Armenia’s citizens.
June 1, 2012
Vartan Oskanian is summoned by Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) to give testimony as a witness in an investigation concerning money laundering (Criminal Code section 190, article 3) and involving the Civilitas Foundation and its founder, Vartan Oskanian.
June 4, 2012
Vartan Oskanian appears at the NSS office, at 18:30 to testify. The questioning lasts over three hours.
June 11, 2012
Vartan Oskanian makes a public statement concerning the criminal investigation against him, in which he states that the criminal investigation launched by the NSS has a political motive.
In continuing the criminal investigation, the NSS also questions the former chief executive of Huntsman Building Products, Mr. Roy Harrison.
June 12, 2012
The NSS makes a public statement revealing certain details pertaining to the criminal investigation and refuting its political nature.
Civilitas Director Salpi Ghazarian is summoned to the NSS to give testimony regarding the same criminal investigation.
June 13, 2012
Vartan Oskanian is invited again to give testimony at the NSS. During the meeting, Mr. Oskanian, on advice of counsel, refuses to continue to offer testimony as a witness since the text of the NSS announcement indicated that the NSS had already concluded that there is criminal activity, and Mr. Oskanian is implicated.
GALA TV, a regional Gyumri-based television station, issues a statement of solidarity with Civilitas staff and states that the criminal investigation is politically motivated.
An online initiative called iSupport Civilitas is launched on Facebook, calling on citizens to stand up for independent media and freedom of speech in Armenia, by supporting the Civilitas Foundation’s CivilNet online news channel.
June 14, 2012
US Ambassador John Heffern responds to a reporter’s question regarding the criminal investigation and he calls the events “troubling.”
The ambassadors of the United States and Switzerland, as well as EU member states France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Romania visit the Civilitas Foundation to hear details of the processes directly from the director. In a separate meeting, the European Union ambassador to Armenia also visits Civilitas.
June 15, 2012
Civilitas Director Salpi Ghazarian visits the NSS at 10:00 am, in response to the summons received days earlier. She does not respond to questions citing the NSS announcement which clearly states that “Civilitas has violated …” certain laws and provisions, and therefore, on advice of counsel, she believes she is not a mere witness but is, according to the NSS, implicated in criminal activity.
June 18, 2012
A representative of the NSS visits the Civilitas Foundation, requesting official documents pertaining to the criminal investigation. Director of the foundation, Salpi Ghazarian provides the requested documents to the NSS representative.
The programs development director of the Civilitas Foundation, Mr. Artashes Darbinian is presented with a request to give testimony as a witness regarding the criminal investigation.
General Gorik Hakobyan, head of the NSS, in an interview with Armenpress, states that Oskanian, if innocent, should testify to prove his innocence.
June 20, 2012
The NSS invites Mr. Artashes Darbinian, Programs Development Director at Civilitas as a witness. He does not testify, based on the same grounds – that Civilitas has already been deemed in violation, and is a possible suspect.
Vartan Oskanian appeals to the Prosecutor General, Aghvan Hovsepyan, asking him to “revisit the decisions and drop the criminal investigation in the absence of a suspect.”
GALA TV, a regional television, based in the northeastern Shirak marz, and the Civilitas Foundation issue a joint statement whereby CivilNet.am reports and CivilNet will share selected content from GALA TV on its website. GALA TV, also the subject of political pressure, in 2007, offered its full support to Civilitas.
June 21, 2012
Vartan Oskanian receives a third summons from the NSS. That visit is delayed due to Mr. Oskanian’s participation in the National Assembly session.
June 22, 2012
The Civilitas Foundation appeals to Armenia’s Prosecutor General, Aghvan Hovsepyan, asking him to “revisit the decisions and drop the criminal investigation in the absence of a suspect.”
The State Revenue Service serves notice that it will conduct a detailed investigation of Civilitas documents from the date of Civilitas’s registration, May 2008, through March 2012.
NSS Director Gorik Hakobyan responds to a reporter’s question and again insists that Vartan Oskanian should give testimony, to prove his innocence.
Civilitas Foundation board members are summoned to appear at the NSS.
June 25, 2012
Vartan Oskanian goes to the NSS for a third time. Accompanied by his attorney, Tigran Atanesyan, Oskanian again refuses to testify as a witness.
June 27, 2012
Vartan Oskanian’s lawyer Tigran Atanesyan receives that formal rejection of his complaint to the RA Prosecutor General against the criminal case opened by the NSS .
June 28, 2012
In line with the State Revenue Service (SRS) announcement of June 22, four representatives of the SRS come to Civilitas at 11:50 to check the foundation’s financial activities for the period 2008-2012. Civilitas Foundation director Salpi Ghazarian greets them and introduces them to Vahe Ghavalian, director of “Paradigma Armenia” which conducts accounting for the Civilitas Foundation. The State Revenue Service representatives leave for the office of “Paradigma Armenia” to carry out the inspection of documents there.
June 29, 2012
The State Revenue Service representatives return to “Paradigma Armenia” to continue their audit of the financial activities of Civilitas Foundation. The foundation became the center of attention when the NSS filed a criminal case initiated in connection with the foundation’s activities.
July 2, 2012
At “Paradigma Armenia”, the State Revenue Service inspectors continue checking the Civilitas Foundation accounts
July 9, 2012
The attorney representing Mr. Oskanian, who is similarly involved, according to the NSS filed a complaint with the Court of First Instance, asking that the National Security Service withdraw its decision based on which it opened a criminal file and began to conduct the investigation regarding money laundering and involving Civilitas.
July 12, 2012
The Civilitas attorney filed a complaint with the Court of First Instance, asking that the National Security Service withdraw its decision based on which it opened a criminal file and began to conduct the investigation regarding money laundering and involving Civilitas. The attorney representing Mr. Oskanian, who is similarly involved, according to the NSS, also filed a similar request on Monday, July 9.
The preliminary investigation of the criminal case by the National Security Service of Armenia concerning the Civilitas Foundation and its founder Vartan Oskanian is still in process.
On July 18, Gagik Khachatryan, the Head of the State Revenue Committee signed an order according to which the checks in the Civilitas Foundation were extended for "10 consecutive working days."
The State Revenue Committee representatives are carrying out checks of accuracy with the budget relations in the Civilitas Foundation since June 28th, 2012, and the time of the checks expires on July 18. According to law, the State Revenue Committee has the right to extend the inspection period for 10 more days.
The National Security Service has requested additional documents from Civilitas Foundation founder Vartan Oskanian related to the criminal case.
National Security Service has refused Vartan Oskanian’s appeal to publish documents related to the case, noting that "the appeal will be paid attention to in case of detailed testifying about the case”.
July 23, 2012
Judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan of Yerevan’s Kentron and Nork Marash Court of First Instance rejected the request by Vartan Oskanian to demand that the National Security Service reverse its May 25 decision to open a criminal case on money laundering, and involving Vartan Oskanian and the Civilitas Foundation.
At the conclusion of the closed-door session, Oskanian’s attorney Tigran Atanesyan said that the court’s decision validates Mr. Oskanian’s insistence that this is a politically-motivated matter. During the hearing, Mr. Atanesyan said neither the investigator nor the prosecutor were able to present any serious evidence which backed the decision to open a criminal investigation.
Mr. Oskanian also commented on the court’s decision. “It has now been two full months since the criminal case was opened. I would think that would have been sufficient time for the investigators to present convincing evidence, if of course such exist. But nothing has been done. After the verdict, I’m even more convinced that other than a political motivation, there is nothing at the basis of this case.”
Mr. Oskanian’s hearing took place on the second day of the extended period that the Tax Service had requested in order to continue their investigation of Civilitas’s books. By law, the investigation that was to take place over 15 consecutive working days can be extended by 10 days. Thus, unless the investigation is frozen (for a period of 90 days is what the law allows) there should be a concluding assessment by the Tax Service by the second week of August.
At the same time, the NSS has continued to call members of the Civilitas Board for questioning. On Tuesday, July 17, Ms. Karine Harutyunyan was the last one to appear.
The Appellate court, with presiding Judge Henrik Ter Adamyan, made the decision to reject the complaint of Vartan Osknaina’s representative Tigran Atanesyan against the decision of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts First Instance Court.
Oskanian's representative Tigran Atanesyan disputes the The decision by RA National Security Service to initiate a criminal case on 25.05.2012 on the characteristics of money laundering.
The Appellate Court has justified the refusal of the appeal (complaint rejection?) on the fact that the complaint is groundless, however, according to Oskanian representative Tigarn Atanesyan states that the Court
of Appeal has not answered to the arguments presented. Therefore, a complaint witht he same content has been submitted to the Court of Cassation.