A leading Armenian entrepreneur who claims to be a victim of political persecution in an ongoing police investigation has appealed to the country’s top leadership for protection “against fraud and intrigues”, warning that failure to investigate his case properly will have far-reaching repercussions for the business environment.
SIL Concern holding company co-owner Saribek Sukiasian, the younger brother of pro-opposition businessman and former MP 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. Sukiasian and Ayrarat market director Artash Stepanian spent 72 hours in police custody before being released on Monday on a written undertaking not to leave the city while the investigation was in progress.
Sukiasian, who denies accusations and views it as a far-reaching plot to confiscate the businesses belonging to his extended family, implied in his appeal that the senior political leadership of Armenia is either “uninformed or misled” on the case.
“I’d like to address my words to the top leaders of the country. If you want people to continue to live, do business and pay taxes in this country, you should remove this gang,” said Sukiasian, without clarifying whom he calls “the gang”.
Sukiasian further insisted that the person who filed the claim against him, identified as Audit Ltd director Gor Davtian, is “also a victim of this gang.”
“My appeal to the country’s top officials means that I expect that they are either uninformed or misled on the case,” said the embattled entrepreneur. “Our country will face the prospect of destruction unless you establish the truth and remove this gang. I think it is your duty to protect every citizen against fraud and intrigues.”
In an interview with RFE/RL on Tuesday, Sukiasian insisted that his recent arrest over a murder threat allegation was linked with the political views held by himself and his brother, Khachatur, 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.
The businessman believes the action taken against his family’s businesses by law-enforcement bodies 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.