Surik Khachatrian, the controversial governor of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region, has been questioned by law-enforcement authorities over allegations that he assaulted a businesswoman after she accused him of business-related fraud, it emerged on Friday.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), a law-enforcement source gave no details of the interrogation. The source said the Special Investigative Service (SIS) has still not decided whether to prosecute Khachatrian.
The businesswoman, Silva Hambardzumian, claims that Khachatrian hit her in the head in a Yerevan hotel lobby late on Monday just days after she voiced her fraud allegations. Hambardzumian, who has business interests in Syunik, said last week that a mining company owned by the governor misappropriated mining equipment worth more than 100 million drams ($263,000) from another firm belonging to her.
Khachatrian, who is notorious for reportedly violent conduct, denied assaulting the entrepreneur on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the SIS decided to open a criminal case after receiving a formal complaint from Hambardzumian. The law-enforcement body subordinate to state prosecutors is also conducting a separate inquiry into her fraud claims.
Hambardzumian was again questioned by SIS investigators on Friday. She told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that she insisted on her version of events.
Hambardzumian also said that the chief of the national police, Vladimir Gasparian, has agreed to provide her with police bodyguards. “They have already allowed that,” she said. “My lawyer needs to go there and sign something.”
Hambardzumian asked for police protection shortly after the allegedly violent incident, saying that she fears for her security.
The assault allegations led to renewed calls for Khachatrian’s sacking. The Syunik governor has for years been accused by media of attacking local business rivals as well as government critics, including a Syunik newspaper editor whose car was set on fire in 2005.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said on Wednesday that the government’s reaction to the latest scandal will depend on the outcome of the SIS inquiry. “Any government statement made now could be regarded as interference in its course,” he told journalists. “The government will closely watch the investigation without any interference.”