Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian has ordered his government to “verify reports” alleging that embattled opposition leader Gagik Tsarukian has hidden huge amounts of money in unpaid taxes following a move by the head of state to effectively “oust” the tycoon from politics.
In a dramatic riposte to mounting pressure from Tsarukian, President Serzh Sarkisian told senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia on Thursday that the tycoon who leads the second largest parliamentary party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), is an “evil” as a politician and must be excluded from the political process.
Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (L) and Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian at an awards ceremony organized by the National Olympic Committee near Yerevan, 26Dec2012.
The president, in particular, instructed Prime Minister Abrahamian, who is in-laws with Tsarukian, to order a probe into long-running “unverified reports” implicating the BHK leader in large-scale tax evasion. He also warned of the possibility of his prosecution for other alleged crimes.
Abrahamian’s spokesperson Gohar Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) on Saturday that upon the premier’s instruction the chief of government staff, Minister David Harutiunian had sent a letter to Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian requesting that his agency check the veracity of reports about Tsarukian’s tax evasion under the guise of charitable activities.
Tsarukian said he was undaunted by the prospect of tax inspections of his numerous businesses as he responded to Sarkisian’s accusations earlier this week.
He urged supporters to take to the streets and topple President Sarkisian with sustained protests.
“I am taking up the gauntlet and am going to fight till the victory,” Tsarukian told senior BHK figures on Friday.
The BHK’s two key opposition allies also condemned the government crackdown as groundless and unconstitutional.
The leaders of the Armenian National Congress and Heritage, Levon Ter-Petrosian and Raffi Hovannisian, met with Tsarukian separately on Friday to discuss a possible joint response to the government campaign.
The leaders of the three opposition parties known as the trio were also expected to meet later on Sunday to decide on their further steps.