By Hovannes Shoghikian
An Armenian wealthy businessman and pro-government parliamentarian was in critical condition on Wednesday after being assaulted in a luxury Moscow hotel in unclear circumstances.
A spokesman for the governing Republican Party (HHK) said Tigran Arzakantsian, owner of one of Armenia’s largest brandy companies, was shot and stabbed in the lobby of the Metropol Hotel in the early hours of the morning.
“According to our information, the attackers were two Caucasian-looking men,” the spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL. “They both fled the scene.”
Sharmazanov cited reports that the incident resulted from a gambling dispute in an exclusive casino located at Metropol. The casino management refused to confirm or deny this when contacted by RFE/RL.
"According to eyewitnesses, a fight broke out in the casino among three of the guests" shortly after 4:00 a.m. (0000 GMT),” the Russian news agency Interfax quoted a police official as saying. "During the fight, one of the participants twice shot his opponent, who has been hospitalized.... Doctors are fighting for his life," the official said.
"It was in the casino of the hotel,” another unnamed Russian police official told the AFP news agency. “Two unidentified attackers came up to him and stabbed him several times. He fought back, then one of them shot him in the arm. Then they ran away.”
Arzakantsian underwent urgent surgery at a Moscow hospital where he was taken with serious wounds immediately after the assault. “He is still in the surgery room,” the chief hospital doctor, Viktor Kaznacheyev, told RFE/RL by phone at noon. “I can’t say anything else ay this point.”
“The operation is over,” Sharmazanov said later in the day. “Doctors consider Mr. Arzakantsian’s condition to be severe.”
Arzakantsian, who was reelected to the Armenian parliament on the HHK ticket last May, had already been hospitalized in the Russian capital after being beaten up at another local casino in March 2006. Reports in the Armenian press likewise linked the incident to a gambling dispute, saying that the 41-year-old businessman lost as much as $800,000 on a single night and failed to pay up. He denied those reports.
The latest incident coincided with a visit to Moscow by an Armenian government delegation headed by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Arzakantsian was reportedly present Sarkisian’s meeting with Armenian university students there held on Tuesday evening. Both Sharmazanov and a government spokeswoman in Yerevan said he was not a member of Sarkisian’s delegation.
The five-star Metropol Hotel is located only steps from the Kremlin, and has hosted celebrities and heads of state from singer Michael Jackson to Chinese President Hu Jintao.