A court in Armenia has ordered opposition leader Gagik Tsarukyan be placed in detention for two months pending trial on alleged financial crimes.
Parliament stripped Tsarukyan, one of the country’s richest businessmen of his immunity in June, allowing prosecutors to launch an investigation into him.
The 63-year-old politician faces accusations of running an illegal gambling business that has deprived the state coffers of about $60m. He is also accused of vote buying in the 2017 parliamentary elections.
Tsarukyan, leader of the Prosperous Armenia party, the second-biggest faction in parliament, denies any wrongdoing,
The opposition politician, who did not appear in the courtroom on Friday and waited for his arrest outside the building of the national security service, said his prosecution was a “political order” by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
“Those who fulfilled that order will be very soon held responsible,” he told reporters.
Tsarukyan’s lawyer, Samvel Dilbandyan, told the AFP news agency that he would appeal against the court ruling.
Pashinyan and his party came to power in May 2018 after the “Velvet Revolution” against corruption and cronyism. Tsarukyan’s prosecution is the latest in a series of high-profile anti-corruption cases initiated by his government.
The opposition leader’s party won 26 of the 132 seats in snap parliamentary elections in December 2018. Some of its members joined Pashinyan’s cabinet, but they were soon dismissed.
Earlier this week, Prosperous Armenia, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the new Homeland party, which is led by former national security chief Artur Vanetsyan, said they had planned to hold a mass anti-government protest on October 8.
“The hopes of many people haven’t been fulfilled and the promises weren’t kept for the last two years,” Prosperous Armenia spokeswoman Iveta Tonoyan told reporters on Tuesday. “There is great public discontent with the government, and to make it heard we will organise a protest.”
Tsarukyan, whose business empire includes hotels, casinos, shopping centres and the production of furniture, has accused Pashinyan and his government of mishandling the economy and failing to fight the COVID-19 pandemic effectively.
Armenia, a country of three million, has registered 48,643 confirmed coronavirus cases and 947 COVID-19 deaths as of Friday, the worst-affected country in the South Caucasus region.
The economy will contract 6.2 percent this year because of the pandemic, reversing last year’s 7.6 percent growth, according to a forecast by the central bank.