On June 16, the Armenian security service announced it had detained General Manvel Grigoryan, the member of the National Assembly, Armenia’s parliament, and a decorated Hero of Armenia, along with a mafia boss, Artur Asatryan, also known as Don Pipo. At the time of his detention, Grigoryan was immune from criminal prosecution as a member of Parliament.
Armenian Prosecutor General Arthur Davtyan said Grigoryan was charged with illegal possession of firearms. He also requested an “extraordinary meeting” of the National Assembly asking the lawmakers to revoke Grigoryan’s immunity and to approve his criminal prosecution.
The initial reaction of the general’s political allies in the Armenian Republican Party to the detention of one of the country's leading figures was one of outrage and denial. The general has been decorated as a hero for his leading role in the creation of Armenian voluntary army, which fought against neighboring Azerbaijani forces for the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabach region.
One of the party’s leaders, Eduard Sharmazanov, deputy chairman of the National Assembly and Republican Party press secretary spoke to Radio Free Europe after visiting Grigoryan in detention. He called the case against the general “unacceptable, illegal, unconstitutional” and “fabricated.”
We have settled on the verdict of “misleading,” because of a later comment from Sharmazanov. As you will see, he has yet to revise his initial accusation that charges were “fabricated.”
On June 17, newly elected Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan went live on Facebook pointing to more accusations against Grigoryan.
“I would like to clearly state that the detention of Marvel Grigoryan is tied not only with the possession of the large amounts of illegal weapons and ammunition. It is also connected with suspicion that he was involved in appropriation and theft of the aid intended for the army,” Pashinyan said.
The prime minister’s accusations were confirmed by the Armenian security service, which published a video of the search of a house owned by Grigoryan in the city of Echmiadzin.
Along with an arsenal of hundreds of firearms, rockets and thousands of packs of ammunition, the video showed stacks of paper boxes marked as “humanitarian aid” and packed with canned food, first aid supplies and clothes. Security service personnel showed handwritten letters to soldiers from children who had collected and donated the aid for the soldiers. The video also showed Grigoryan’s collection of vintage cars and his private zoo, with exotic animals kept in small cages.
“He was illegally appropriating the food the school students have been collecting for the soldiers and feeding it to his animals – the bears, the tigers and others,” Prime Minister Pashinyan said.
The security service’s video provoked a wave of public outrage in Armenia.
On the evening of June 17, the general’s son, Karen Grigoryan, announced on Facebook his resignation as mayor of the city of Echmiadzin.
Republican Party members publicly condemned Grigoryan's actions, calling them “unacceptable and disgusting.” They also stated that they “respect the presumption of innocence, but if the charges brought against him (are) proved according the law, he must be held accountable.”
One indication of the strong feelings in Armenia: Somebody edited Grigoryan’s Wikipedia page, adding the word “traitor” to his career achievements, while “Hero of Corruption” was added in next to the picture of the Armenian Order of Hero he had been awarded.
On June 19, Armenia’s National Assembly revoked Manvel Grigoryan’s parliamentary immunity and approved his criminal prosecution, with the approval of almost all the general’s supporters in the Republican Party.
Sharmazanov has shifted his opinion, saying: “If all of this turns out to be true, I think this has no justification that is my opinion.” Still, he has not publicly taken back his initial statement that the charges were “fabricated,” even as the general’s defense rests on the notion.
Later on June 19, Grigoryan’s legal team said he rejects all accusations, including any knowledge of the goods and weapons stocked on the premises of the property he claims he barely visits twice a year.
The VOA Armenian Service contributed to this report.