By Ruzanna Stepanian
A political party led by Armenia’s reputedly wealthiest businessman close to President Robert Kocharian claims to have made no expenditures last year, despite opening hundreds of offices and handing out politically motivated aid, it emerged on Friday.
Under Armenian law, all officially registered parties must issue annual financial reports detailing their real incomes and expenditures. Few of them are believed to comply with the requirement.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian posted zero expenditures in its report submitted to the Armenian Ministry of Justice recently. Founded just over a year ago, the BHK aggressively expanded in the course of 2006 and now claims to have as many as 370,000 members, making it by far the largest party in the country.
The party also opened some 500 big and small offices across Armenia that are now buzzing with activity in the run-up to the May 12 parliamentary elections which Tsarukian intends to win.
According to the chief BHK spokesman, Baghdasar Mherian, the party has spent nothing on that because all of those offices are owned by its members and “people close to the party.” Speaking to RFE/RL, Mherian also claimed that none of the thousands of people working for the party, including himself, gets paid by Tsarukian. “All of them are volunteers,” he said.
The tycoon spent last year millions of dollars on providing agricultural relief, free medical aid and other supposedly public services to scores of impoverished Armenians. The heavily advertised assistance, portrayed as “benevolence” by the BHK but condemned as vote buying by critics, was technically distributed by an obscure charity bearing Tsarukian’s name. However, promotional reports aired by several Armenian TV stations last fall clearly attributed it to the party.