Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharian and his family have filed a libel suit against a pro-opposition newspaper over that they say are untrue reports implicating them in large-scale business activities.
In a series of news stories published in September, the “Zhamanak” daily claimed that Kocharian is involved in lucrative imports of pharmaceuticals and owns a chain of drug stores through his wife Bella. Citing an unnamed source, it also alleged that Kocharian’s older son Sedrak has purchased a diamond mine in India.
Kocharian and his family members have dismissed the reports as a fraud through the ex-president’s spokesman and legal counsels. They have sued the paper for defamation of character, demanding 6 million drams ($16,700) in compensatory damages.
The legal action came despite the paper’s decision to publish retractions, sent by the Kocharian family in October, along with its “explanatory” comments attached to them. In the words of the “Zhamanak” editor, Arman Babajanian, the family was angered by the background notes.
“According to the Kocharians’ lawyer, we insulted the family for a second time by reminding our readers what the issue is all about,” Babajanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Babajanian, who was jailed for draft evasion during Kocharian’s rule and spent more than three years in prison, denounced the lawsuit as an “attack on free speech,” saying that the ex-president is keen to strangle his publication financially.
“We will never cave in to such attacks,” he said. “Zhamanak will continue to publish and we will fight by all means.”
Kocharian’s press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, shrugged off these claims. “Freedom of speech and lies are totally different things,” he told RFE/RL.
The case is due to be heard by the same Yerevan judge who fined another pro-opposition daily, “Haykakan Zhamanak,” 3.6 million drams last year for alleging that Kocharian’s younger son, Levon, provoked a drunken brawl in the United Arab Emirates. The paper, which boasts the highest daily circulation in Armenia, called the verdict “unfounded and illegal.”
Both “Zhamanak” and “Haykakan Zhamanak” are staunchly supportive of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) led by Levon Ter-Petrosian, Kocharian’s predecessor and most bitter foe. Ter-Petrosian has repeatedly accused Kocharian of amassing huge personal wealth during his 1998-2008 rule.