By Karine KalantarianHakob Hakobian, a controversial businessman and parliament deputy, has been formally indicted and will likely stand trial on a string of charges that could land him in prison for up to seven years.
The indictment was made possible by the Armenian parliament’s decision on Friday to lift Hakobian’s immunity from prosecution over his alleged role in the October 8 mass brawl at a gas distribution station near Yerevan.
Officials at Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Tuesday that the accusations leveled against his include illegal arms possession, hooliganism, tax evasion and abuse of power. The hooliganism charge carries between four and seven years’ imprisonment.
Addressing the National Assembly, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian accused Hakobian of organizing and leading an armed assault on the gas facility in the village of Hayanist after security guards there refused to allow him to enter its premises. Hakobian is said to have visited it to demand that the ARG national gas distributor resume supplies to nearby liquefied gas stations owned by him.
But the 43-year-old lawmaker, who recently joined the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), presented a different version of events, saying that he arrived at the scene stop a “manly fight” between the security guards and local residents working for him. He claimed that more than 30 locals were arrested by security forces and are still “illegally” kept in detention.
The prosecutors denied the claims, insisting that only four persons, including Hakobian and his chief bodyguard, were detained and released last week. None of them except Hakobian has been charged so far.
The prosecutors used the Hayanist incident to bring other, unrelated charges against the reputedly thuggish man better known to the public with his “Choyt” nickname. In his parliament speech, Hovsepian claimed that he has evaded taxes and committed other financial abuses for in the past 15 years.
Opposition lawmakers, who for hours grilled the chief prosecutor, wondered why the law-enforcement bodies did not move to prosecute Hakobian earlier. The latter publicly hinted that he has for years bribed law-enforcement and tax officials inspecting his businesses.
Opposition parliamentarians also denounced as illegal the fact that Hakobian and his men were arrested not by the Armenian police but another agency which is in charge of President Robert Kocharian’s security. They claimed that the case against Hakobian is a public relations stunt aimed at countering opposition allegations about the growing presence of “criminal elements” in Armenia’s government.
Most of the 22 members of the 131-strong National Assembly that voted against Hakobian’s prosecution are believed to be affiliated with its opposition minority.
Kocharian pounced on this in televised remarks broadcast at the weekend. He said the opposition stance on the issue showed that an “anti-criminal movement” launched recently by his political opponents is a sham. “That bubble has burst,” said Kocharian.
Artur Baghdasarian, the former parliament speake whose Orinats Yerkir party has also joined the movement, rejected the criticism. “That criminal elements have penetrated the political field is a fact and I can’t agree with the president of the republic on this,” Baghdasarian told reporters. “The state along with its law-enforcement structures must be interested in bring the guilty to account, which is unfortunately not done in our country. There are people in Armenia that are above the law and can do anything.”
(Photolur photo: Hakob Hakobian.)