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By Ruben Meloyan
Justice Minister David Harutiunian on Friday sought to end speculation about his participation in the next Armenian presidential election, saying he harbors no ambitions to succeed President Robert Kocharian in 2008.

“I have no such ambitions and don’t think that’s possible,” he told RFE/RL in an interview. “At least I see no grounds for that at the moment.”

Despite his relatively young age, Harutiunian, is one of the longest serving members of Kocharian’s government and has been regarded by some commentators as one of the latter’s potential successors. But the remarks suggest that the 43-year-old minister is reluctant to challenge the more powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian who is widely believed to have presidential designs.

Harutiunian said he sees his political future in Armenia’s parliament, reiterating his intention to contest this spring’s parliamentary elections on the ticket of one of the pro-Kocharian parties. “I am still not prepared to say which party I’m going to join,” he said, commenting on growing rumors that he will team up with the Prosperous Armenia party of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman close to the Armenian president.

Harutiunian, who reportedly exerts considerable influence on Armenian courts, brushed aside opposition claims that he and his extended family have amassed a big fortune during his nine years in office. One opposition leader claimed recently that the minister owns luxury apartment in New York worth more than $3 million.

“I don’t want to comment on false rumors,” Harutiunian said, insisting that he only owns two apartments in Yerevan and an incomplete village house. He denied ties with any of the construction firms involved in a massive commercial redevelopment going on in central Yerevan.

Harutiunian also denied that his assets are registered in the name of his two younger brothers who own a law firm, a travel agency and a small transport airline. Reports in the pro-opposition press have claimed that litigants represented by them usually win court cases.

“That they are far from being oligarchs is certain,” the minister said of his brothers. “And I think they lose cases as often as other lawyers do.”

(Photolur photo)
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