By Astghik BedevianThe brother of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Monday that he never considered emigrating or hid from anyone during his prolonged and mysterious absence from Armenia.
Aleksandr Sarkisian, who owns a lucrative business and holds a seat in the Armenian parliament, also effectively admitted having moved a considerable part of his assets overseas.
“I’m not the kind of guy who would flee and leave his family behind,” he told journalists. “I have no reason to be in hiding. My wife and two sons have been here all the time.”
Sarkisian has spent most of the past year abroad and has not been seen in public in Armenia for many months. He is known to have lived for up to six months in Britain and other parts of Western European and was reportedly in the United States in the last few months.
Sarkisian’s absence prompted far-reaching speculation in the Armenian press. Some newspapers have alleged that he left the country for good, fearing retribution for a 2002 murder in Yerevan of a Russian crime figure of Armenian descent which was linked with his name.
Sarkisian angrily denied such claims. “There is no guy in Armenian from whom I would run away. You understand?” he said.
Newspapers critical of Armenia’s leadership a have also claimed that Sarkisian has spent millions of dollars on buying real estate in Britain and California. “When the value of real property acquired by him in Los Angeles surpassed 12 million [dollars] he immediately attracted the attention of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations,” one of those papers, “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun,” reported on September 16. “They demanded that Sashik Sarkisian present an income and property declaration, which the National Assembly deputy did, showing U.S. law-enforcers a $30 million declaration.”
Sarkisian did not deny the report, saying that his visits abroad “had to do with both my health and business.” But he did not give details of his overseas business activities.
“We are considered high-level officials and file financial declarations every year. I have a firm and engage in business. Fifty percent of the Multi Lion firm is mine,” Sarkisian said, referring to Armenia’s leading supplier of liquefied gas to households, cars and buses.
The rest of Multi Lion is owned by Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia’s richest men close to President Robert Kocharian and his powerful defense minister. It is part of Tsarukian’s Multi Group conglomerate that comprises over 40 big and medium-sized businesses. Despite being lucrative, the vast majority of them were not included in the list of the country’s leading corporate taxpayers released by the Armenian government earlier this year.