A controversial millionaire businessman staunchly supporting President Serzh Sarkisian claimed on Friday that opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian repeatedly tried to co-opt him ahead of Armenia’s 2008 presidential election.
Ruben Hayrapetian, who also holds a parliament seat and runs the Armenian Football Federation, said this is the reason why he is frequently attacked by media outlets sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian.
“He [Ter-Petrosian] asked me three times,” Hayrapetian told a news conference.
“He last did that in January 2008,” he said. “He asked me through an envoy to betray [Serzh Sarkisian.] But I’m not the kind of person who betrays.”
“Serzh Sarkisian saved me from Levon Ter-Petrosian’s claws in 1996. How could I betray that person?” he added.
Hayrapetian alleged that Ter-Petrosian personally visited him for that purpose at a luxury resort owned by the tycoon in August 2007. The ex-president officially announced his decision to contest the February 2008 election two months later.
There was no immediate reaction to the allegations from Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance.
Ter-Petrosian, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, tried to win over to the government-linked “oligarchs” shortly after announcing his political comeback. In a December 2007 speech, he described them as government “slaves” and said they will run the constant risk of losing their assets as long as the ruling regime remains in power.
“If you continue to dishonorably serve the current authorities, they will be able to destroy you one by one at any moment. But if you jointly oppose them, they won’t last even for one day,” Ter-Petrosian said at the time.
Hayrapetian, who holds sway in Yerevan’s northern Avan district, lent full support to Sarkisian in the disputed election. He was accused by the Ter-Petrosian campaign of organizing vote falsifications there and ordering his bodyguards to kidnap and beat up several opposition proxies on election day.
The tough-talking tycoon has since continued to face opposition media allegations of violent conduct. He came under fresh fire late last year after suing, together with two other government-linked businessmen, the opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak.”
The libel suit stemmed from a newspaper article saying that Russian authorities suspect the three oligarchs of involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering and other grave crimes committed in Russia. Earlier this year, a Yerevan court ordered the pro-Ter-Petrosian paper to pay the plaintiffs 6 million drams ($16,200) in damages.
Hayrapetian on Friday again angrily denied the allegations. He was particularly incensed by the drug trafficking charge.
“Ask people in Avan what I do to drug dealers,” he told journalists. “You don’t know what I would do to them? I would punish, beat up them.”
“Why are you surprised? You should be surprised when I say that I play the violin.”