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By Hrach Melkumian
Police announced on Monday the arrest of former parliament deputy Ruben Gevorgian on charges of plotting vendetta-style murders as part of his family’s bloody feud with a more powerful clan headed by one of Armenia’s richest men.

A police statement said Gevorgian, who once held sway in Yerevan’s western Davitashen district, planned a series of explosions that would have targeted Gevorg Manukian, a nephew of tycoon Samvel Aleksanian.

Manukian is currently standing trial in connection with a November 2002 shootout outside Gevorgian’s Davitashen house which left a friend of the ex-parliamentarian’s nephew dead. The incident reportedly resulted from a business dispute between the two families and marked the start of an apparent settling of scores between them.

It culminated in last June’s ambush attack outside Yerevan on a taxi carrying two other sons of Gevorgian’s late brother Samvel. One of them was shot dead along with the car’s driver and another man, while the other nephew was seriously wounded. Gevorgian, better recognized by most Armenians with his “Tsaghik” (Flower) nickname, believes that the shootings were the work of Aleksanian and has repeatedly criticized the law-enforcement authorities for not prosecuting the latter.

Several individuals, including the alleged mastermind of the killings, were arrested and charged by the police later in the summer. However, it is still not clear whether they have any connection with Aleksanian, who is a member of the current Armenian parliament and owns many lucrative businesses.

The police said they confiscated three explosive devices which Gevorgian allegedly wanted to use against Aleksanian’s nephew and other relatives. The murder plot was foiled after the law-enforcement authorities tapped the former lawmaker’s phones, the police statement said. Officials from the national Police Service and the Prosecutor’s Office refused to divulge further details of the case.

The newspaper “Yerkir” reported that according to its “preliminary information,” the explosives, connected to mobile phones, were meant for Aleksanian.

The feud between the two men broke out last year when a close relative of Aleksanian opened and rapidly expanded retail businesses in Davitashen -- an area that was once considered the Gevorgian family’s exclusive zone of influence. Gevorgian, who had served a lengthy prison sentence for murder in the Soviet times, ran the district before getting elected to Armenia’s previous National Assembly in 1999. A senior member of the once powerful Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans, he earned notoriety for his hard-line nationalist rhetoric

Gevorgian’s political and economic clout began to decline after the 1999 assassination of Vazgen Sarkisian, Armenia’s powerful prime minister and Yerkrapah’s founding leader. He was defeated in the last parliamentary election by another millionaire businessman, Harutiun Pambukian.

By contrast, Aleksanian has always kept a very low profile, avoiding any contacts with journalists even after easily winning a parliament seat in the May 25 elections. Nicknamed “Lfik,” he has built up a huge fortune over the past decade thanks to his de facto monopoly on the highly lucrative imports of sugar and alcohol to Armenia.

The authorities apparently decided to get tough on both men after the June killings, prosecuting one of Gevorgian’s nephews in connection with a different crime and sending tax inspectors to Aleksanian’s businesses that had long been accused of evading taxes. Aleksanian was at one point rumored to have fled the country.

(Photolur photo: Ruben Gevorgian.)
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