By Astghik Bedevian
Ruben Hayrapetian, a wealthy businessman and parliament deputy, on Tuesday confirmed reports that he has purchased a company belonging to another, opposition-linked tycoon that was effectively confiscated by the Armenian authorities.
The Bjni mineral water plant was auctioned off on Monday in payment for 4.2 billion drams ($13.7 million) in fines imposed on it for alleged tax evasion. Armenia’s Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) refused to disclose the buyer’s name, saying only that he offered to pay 4.44 billion drams for the embattled firm based in the central town of Charentsavan.
Armenian media were quick to link Hayrapetian with the highly controversial deal. “The state put up [Bjni] for sale and I bought it,” the tycoon told the “168 Zham” newspaper.
Hayrapetian is a senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and strong supporter of its leader, President Serzh Sarkisian. He is also the chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia.
Bjni has until now been owned by Khachatur Sukiasian, another millionaire businessman holding a parliament seat. Sukiasian supported opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election and went into hiding to escape arrest following the disputed vote. He is wanted by the authorities for his part in what they call an opposition plot to seize power.
The fugitive tycoon has strongly denied the coup charges through his family members and lawyers. They insist that tax authorities’ crackdown on Bjni and other Sukiasian-owned businesses was also politically motivated.
Ara Zohrabian, a Bjni lawyer, reiterated on Tuesday the Sukiasian family’s view that the auction administered by the SMEJA is illegal and must be annulled. He said the family will take legal action to try to reclaim the company that employed more than 400 people before being forced to halt its operations in October.