Khachatur Sukiasian, a fugitive businessman and opposition parliamentarian, said through his lawyers on Wednesday that he will not after all surrender to Armenian law-enforcement authorities despite the possibility of being granted amnesty.
Sukiasian was among several opposition figures who went into hiding in March 2008 to avoid prosecution for their role in post-election demonstrations in Yerevan that were suppressed by the authorities. Like three other members of Armenia’s parliament arrested in the government crackdown, he was charged with plotting to “usurp the state authority” and organizing “mass riots” that left ten people dead. State prosecutors dropped the coup charges against them in April this year.
An amnesty bill approved by the National Assembly on June 19 gave Sukiasian and other fugitive oppositionists until July 31 to turn themselves in and face trial. They will be set free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison. Two of the fugitives have already surrendered to the police.
In a July 6 statement, Sukiasian indicated that he could emerge from hiding and hope to avoid imprisonment. Law-enforcement officials made clear, however, that he would be kept in detention at least until the end of his trial.
The tycoon’s lawyers said on Wednesday that he is “not preparing” to go on trial and risk imprisonment. “I have no problem with surrendering to the authorities because I didn’t commit any crime and was not stripped of my parliamentary immunity from prosecution,” he said in a statement circulated by the lawyers.
Sukiasian and the other opposition lawmakers were stripped of that immunity in March 2008. They say that prosecutors had to obtain a fresh arrest permission from the National Assembly after significantly revising the criminal cases against them in March 2008. The prosecutors claim the opposite.
One of Armenia’s wealthiest men, Sukiasian got in trouble with the authorities in late 2007 after publicly voicing support for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power. Many of his businesses were raided by tax authorities and fined for alleged tax evasion. One of them, the Bjni mineral water company, was effectively confiscated by the government late last year.