By Ruzanna Stepanian
YEREVAN – U.S Ambassador John Heffern last Thursday expressed concern at criminal proceedings launched against Vartan Oskanian and Civilitas foundation before visiting the think-tank, founded by the former Armenian foreign minister, together with Yerevan-based European diplomats.
“The timing of it is troubling. The fact that this would happen at this time in the political calendar is troubling,” Heffern told Radio Free Europe, referring to the money laundering case brought by the Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS).
“The Civilitas is a very important partner for us, and we think it’s really important for Armenia politically and for the media,” he said. “So we are very interested in the case and we are following it very carefully.”
The case stems from a nearly $2 million donation which Civilitas received from two U.S companies last year. The sum was transferred from proceeds from the sale of their Armenian subsidiary. Hunstman Building Products. The NSS claims that Civilitas failed to declare the donation to tax authorities. Oskanian strongly denies that and says the case is politically motivated.
The Yerevan based Ambassadors of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Romania were also present at the meeting, suggesting that their governments too are concerned over the NSS investigation. Some of those governments as well as the U.S Embassy in Yerevan have sponsored Civilitas projects.
“We explained that there were no illegal actions, that the foundation’s activities have been and remain transparent,” Salpi Ghazarian, Civilitas director said. “We also gave explanations about the [Huntsman] donation and Civilita’s activities and conveyed to them our concern.” She said the authorities launched the probe to pressure not only Oskanian but also CivilNet online TV service that was launched by Civilitas last year.
Ghazarian also was summoned to the NSS for questioning last Friday.