Money Politics in Armenia, Georgia and "Hooliganism" in Azerbaijan
Political money is the most precarious kind of money in the Caucasus these days. Whether they spend or earn, opposition figures are finding that state auditors and security services have suddenly developed an active interest in keeping them au courant with campaign-finance regulations
Shortly after speculation picked up that Armenia’s second-largest party, Prosperous Armenia, a former government coalition member, may go into opposition against the ruling Republican Party of Armenia ahead of next February's presidential elections, a money-laundering investigation was launched against senior Prosperous Armenia member Vartan Oskanian, who served as foreign minister from 1998 to 2008.
“Money, laundering, Oskanian… are words that just don’t go together,” fumed Oskanian, who described the probe as political retaliation.
Government officials, in turn, instructed the angry ex-cabinet-minister not to jump to conclusions. Do not immediately allege “a political subtext,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was quoted by RFE/RL as saying. “We are only clearing up some circumstances.”
And the circumstances are that a Yerevan think-tank founded by Oskanian, Civilitas, allegedly received a $2-million donation from two US companies, Polymer Materials and Huntsman International. Armenia’s National Security Service claimed that Oskanian failed to disclose the donation to the tax authorities and that there are suspicions of legalizing a large amount of money obtained by criminal means.
To launder money, money must be dirty to start with, countered Oskanian, underlining that “the source of the money is known, the buyer is known."
As this pre-presidential-election battle is going on in Armenia, to the north, in Georgia, a pre-parliamentary-election battle is also focused on the provenance of political money.
Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, now the country's main opposition figure heading into October's parliamentary vote, is appealing a court ruling that he pay a whopping 148.64-million-lari (just over $91 million) worth of fines for allegedly bribing voters. Amidst the appeal, he could face a judgment lien on his property in Georgia.
In the third South Caucasus country, Azerbaijan, where a presidential vote is more than a year away, officials appear to have other concerns at hand -- protecting the First Family, and, opposition activists say, cleaning up shop after Eurovision.
On June 12, photographer Mehyman Huseynov, an activist in the Sing for Democracy protest movement, was taken in for questioning by Baku police, who are keeping him in detention. He reportedly faces charges of hooliganism at a May 21 protest where, human rights activists say, his camera was seized and broken by police when they moved in to crack down on the demonstration. If convicted, he faces a year in prison.