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Pro-Opposition Entrepreneur Defies ‘Politically Motivated’ Prosecution


Armenia -- Major businessmen Khachatur and Saribek Suqiassians, undated

Armenia -- Major businessmen Khachatur and Saribek Suqiassians, undated

An affluent Armenian entrepreneur has linked his recent arrest over an alleged murder threat with the political views held by himself and his brother, a prominent businessman and former MP, who openly supported the opposition candidate in the disputed 2008 presidential election and currently faces criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the post-election clashes.

SIL Concern holding company co-owner Saribek Sukiasian, the younger brother of Khachatur Sukiasian, was detained along with one of his business partners last Friday on suspicion of illegally possessing a gun and threatening to kill a fellow entrepreneur.

Police released both on Monday after the expiration of a 72-hour period during which suspects can be kept in custody without a charge being formally brought against them. But Sukiasian and Ayrarat market director Artash Stepanian signed a written pledge not to leave the city while police were investigating the claim filed by an entrepreneur who alleged to have been forced, by Sukiasian and Stepanian, to sign some business-related documents under “a real threat of murder”.

“I just want to express my gratitude to all those who did not believe this lie,” Sukiasian told RFE/RL on Tuesday. He added that his lawyers were dealing with the case and will “settle all matters.”

The businessman believes the action taken against his family’s businesses by law-enforcement agencies are conditioned by the political views of the Sukiasians, which have “economic consequences.”

Saribek Sukiasian’s arrest came just one month after the Armenian authorities completed a highly controversial confiscation of a mineral water plant that belonged to the Sukiasian family. The Bjni plant was put up for sale last year after its owners refused to pay almost 5.2 billion drams ($13.6 million) in fines imposed for alleged tax evasion. The Sukiasian brothers rejected the accusation as baseless and politically motivated.

Bjni and several other companies making up SIL Concern were raided by tax officials and accused of large-scale tax fraud shortly after Khachatur Sukiasian voiced support in September 2007 for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power. The tycoon was among several Ter-Petrosian associates who fled the country to escape arrest following the February 2008 presidential election.

Khachatur Sukiasian surrendered to the police in September and was set free three days later despite remaining charged with organizing the March 2008 “mass riots” in Yerevan. Law-enforcement also allowed him to leave the country, ostensibly for receiving medical treatment abroad.
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