Yerevan’s embattled Mayor Taron Markarian on Wednesday denied fresh allegations of illegal business ownership reflecting the continuing fallout from his ill-fated attempt to significantly raise public transport fees in the capital.
Markarian responded to the publication by a pro-opposition online news service, ilur.am, of official documents indicating that he owned from 2008-2010 a company that controls two minibus routes. He served as head of the city’s northern Avan district and Yerevan’s vice-mayor in that period.
The documents show that the company called Robert-Taron was previously owned by Robert Sargsian, Markarian’s brother-in-law and a parliament deputy representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. According to ilur.am, it is currently registered in the name of one of Sargsian’s neighbors.
Opposition politicians and civic activists were quick to seize upon the report. They accused the 35-year-old mayor of violating Armenian laws that ban state official from doing business while in office.
Davit Sanasarian, a member of Yerevan’s municipal council representing the opposition Zharangutyun party, claimed that this is further proof that Markarian is guided by his personal interests in making decisions regarding the city’s public transport system. Naira Zohrabian, a senior member of the Prosperous Armenia Party, likewise referred to his alleged control of some bus routes as a proven fact.
Markarian categorically denied having any links with Robert-Taron as he toured another Yerevan district, Nor Nork. “I can prove that with facts and documents,” he said, according 168.am.
The mayor spoke amid continuing street protests staged by youth activists who succeeded last week in forcing the Yerevan municipality to freeze a more than 50 percent rise in transport fares. The activists are now demanding the sacking of two senior municipal officials in charge of public transport. Markarian rejected those demands through a spokesman on Tuesday.
Markarian, whose father Andranik was Armenia’s prime minister from2000-2007, already faced similar corruption allegations in the run-up to last May’s municipal elections. The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) demanded a criminal investigation into the origin of his business assets and properties declared to the Central Election Commission (CEC). The HAK claimed that they are worth at least $6 million. It said Markarian’s failure to specify sources of his wealth gives it reason to suspect him of corruption.
The ruling HHK dismissed the allegations as a publicity stunt. Markarian also denied them, while failing to clarify how he made a fortune while in office.