By Hovannes Shoghikian
A controversial businessman and former parliamentarian who reportedly provoked a mass brawl outside Yerevan last fall secured on Tuesday an indefinite suspension of his trial thanks to his allegedly poor health.
Hakob Hakobian, who is affiliated with the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), went on trial in the southern town in Artashat last month on charges of “hooliganism,” tax evasion and other financial irregularities. The high-profile case was brought last October immediately after fellow lawmakers agreed to lift his legal immunity from prosecution. The parliament’s decision was in turn prompted by a violent incident in a village just south of Yerevan involving Hakobian and his loyalists.
They reportedly stormed a local gas distribution facility that cut supplies to nearby liquefied gas stations owned by Hakobian. The pro-government businessman, better known as Choyt, was detained on the spot and kept in custody for three days. He has denied responsibility for the violence, saying that he arrived at the scene stop a “manly fight” between security guards and local residents.
Hakobian, who was controversially barred from contesting the May 12 parliamentary elections, has failed to attend any of the court hearings on the case so far, citing serious health problems. His defense counsel, Mkrtich Vasakian, submitted to the Artashat court on Tuesday a written statement by a Yerevan hospital saying that Hakobian is suffering from a number of cardiac diseases and should be spared the need to attend court hearings for at least three months.
The presiding judge, Gagik Sargsian, said the hospital reaffirmed this assertion in response to a formal inquiry filed by the court. He said the criminal proceedings against Hakobian will therefore be suspended “until his recuperation.”
The trial prosecutor, Vardges Gevorgian, did not protest against this decision after the judge agreed to press ahead with the prosecution of seven other defendants connected to Hakobian. They will now be tried separately.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Vasakian insisted that his burly client is really sick and needs a reprieve. He said he is confident that the judge’s final verdict on Hakobian will be “fair.”
The fraud charges leveled against Hakobian stem from his business activities of the past 15 years. The former lawmaker, who is no stranger to controversy, has vehemently denied them as well. Addressing the National Assembly last October, he implicitly alleged that he was not prosecuted earlier because he has for years bribed law-enforcement and tax officials inspecting his businesses.