Law-enforcement authorities launched on Friday a criminal investigation into the secret recording and publication of a revealing conversation between two prominent opposition politicians on the political situation in Armenia.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) opened a criminal case under a Criminal Code article dealing with illegal surveillance of people after questioning Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), and former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
Both men lodged written complaints with the Office of the Prosecutor-General in connection with the wiretapping earlier this week. The prosecutors referred the case to the SIS, a body subordinate to them.
“We have ensured that they open a criminal case,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after visiting the SIS headquarters in Yerevan. “It is evident to me that this is a provocation organized by the authorities and special services to bully and discredit opposition members,” he said.
Oskanian, who is a senior member of the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), stopped short of making such allegations. “Mr. Oskanian does not suspect anyone,” said his lawyer, Tigran Atanesian. “He has been questioned as a witness in the case.”
“It is obvious that what happened was a crime,” added Atanesian. “Therefore, we welcome the SIS’s decision to open a criminal case.”
Zurabian was more skeptical in that regard. “I am sure that the case will not be solved because I believe Armenia’s special services are behind this case,” he said.
The National Security Service (NSS) and representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia deny such claims.
According to the two politicians, their recorded conversation took place in a Yerevan café several weeks ago. In the audio of the discussion posted on the Internet, Zurabian can be heard complaining to Oskanian about HAK members opposed to any electoral alliances between the opposition bloc and the BHK. He singles out two of them, outspoken parliament deputies Hrant Bagratian and Nikol Pashinian.
Zurabian claimed on Friday that the audio was doctored and some of his comments were taken out of context as a result. He also insisted that the release of the audio has not deepened divisions within HAK. “Everyone understands that this is a provocation organized by the authorities,” he said.