YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Samvel Babayan, an opposition figure and a retired army general arrested on Wednesday, denies smuggling weapons to Armenia, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Announcing Babayan’s arrest, the National Security Service (NSS) said it has “credible information” that he paid two other individuals to smuggle a shoulder-fired surface-to-air rocket system from neighboring Georgia. The NSS claimed earlier on Wednesday to have confiscated a Russian-made Igla rocket along with its launcher.
“He has testified that what he is suspected of has nothing to do with him,” Babayan’s lawyer, Avetik Kalashian said. “I can’t go into details because of the secrecy of the investigation.”
Kalashian also said that his client does not know the two other persons also arrested by the NSS. The latter has not identified them yet.
Under Armenian law, the powerful security agency has to charge the three suspects or release them from custody by Saturday. Babayan has not yet been formally charged, according to Kalashian.
Babayan is a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army highly critical of Armenia’s current leadership. He is thought to be very close to an Armenian opposition alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and former Foreign Ministers Raffi Hovannisian and Vartan Oskanian. Ohanian was the chief of staff of the Karabakh army when it was led by Babayan in the 1990s.
In a joint statement, Ohanian, Oskanian and Hovannisian condemned Babayan’s arrest, saying it is aimed at weakening their alliance ahead of parliamentary elections slated for April 2.
Kalashian was careful not to allege political motives behind the high-profile case. “Mr. Babayan has expressed no opinion on that,” the lawyer said. “So as his lawyer, I will also refrain from expressing such an opinion.”
Babayan was already arrested in Karabakh in 2000 and spent four years in prison there for allegedly masterminding a botched attempt on the life of the then president of the unrecognized republic, Arkady Ghukasian. The once powerful general always denied those accusations.