By Astghik Bedevian
Ruben Hayrapetian, a prominent pro-government businessman, strongly defended on Friday his decision to buy a company that was effectively confiscated by the Armenian government from an entrepreneur supporting the opposition.
Hayrapetian was the sole participant in a government-administered auction for the Bjni mineral water plant. It was put up for sale late last year after its refusal to pay 4.2 billion drams ($13.7 million) in government fines imposed on it for alleged tax evasion. Hayrapetian offered to pay 4.44 billion drams for the company based in Charentsavan, a small town 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, just hours before the end of the bidding on Monday.
“I bought Bjni so that people don’t become jobless,” he told a news conference.
The company employed more than 400 people before it was raided by tax and police officials and forced to suspend its operations in October. According to Hayrapetian, it will be reopened later this month or early next.
Bjni was until now owned by Khachatur Sukiasian, another millionaire businessman holding a parliament seat. Sukiasian supported opposition leader and former President 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 businesses making up Sukiasian’s SIL Concern group, launched in late 2007, was also politically motivated.
Hayrapetian, who also heads the Football Federation of Armenia and is a senior member of the ruling Republican Party, said he has no moral qualms about acquiring a company wrested from a fellow “oligarch.” He argued that Sukiasian and his extended family have no moral right to question his integrity because they made their fortune in the early 1990s thanks to their close ties with the administration of then President Ter-Petrosian.
“Let them look back and see whether [the way in which] they bought or took away things was moral,” he raged. “When they admit that their actions were immoral, I will do the same.”
“You all know how these SIL Concern owners acquired their assets,” Hayrapetian told journalists. “Just look back at [the period] from 1992 to 1998 and you will see with what methods their assets, including the Bjni plant, were bought.”