By Lilit Harutiunian
The father of Khachatur Sukiasian, a fugitive businessman supporting the Armenian opposition, has accused the authorities of threatening the security of his extended family after effectively confiscating one of its largest businesses.
“We are convinced that members of our family are in physical danger as well,” Albert Sukiasian said in an open letter to Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, international organizations and foreign diplomatic missions in Yerevan. “We are conscious that new provocations are being plotted against us because the ruling clique will stop at nothing to complete the political retribution.”
Sukiasian did not specify if members of the family remaining in the country have received any death threats. He cited instead the tax authorities’ controversial crackdown on some of the companies making up the Sukiasian-owned SIL Concern group.
One of those companies, the Bjni mineral water plant, was auctioned off by the government last month after its refusal to pay 4.2 billion drams ($13.7 million) in fines imposed on it for alleged tax evasion. Bjni and several other SIL firms were inspected by tax officials shortly after Khachatur Sukiasian publicly voiced support for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in September 2007.
Like several other prominent Ter-Petrosian backers, Sukiasian went into hiding to escape arrest following the disputed presidential election of February 2008. He is wanted by the authorities for his part in the March 2008 deadly clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. Two of his three brothers have also been on the run since then.
Artur Sakunts, a well-known human rights campaigner based in the northern town of Vanadzor, said the statement issued by Sukiasian’s father should be taken seriously. “The fact that three of the four brothers are on the run not because of a felony but because of their political attitudes definitely means that there is a serious threat to their security,” he told RFE/RL.
Both the tycoon and Armenian opposition leaders say the charges of tax fraud brought against SIL Concern are politically motivated, a claim echoed by Albert Sukiasian. The authorities deny any political reasons for the crackdown, however.
Sukiasian said the family is “determined to protect our legal rights” by organizing “protest actions” and taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Ara Zohrabian, a SIL lawyer, confirmed that the Sukiasian family will ask the Strasbourg court to annul the change of Bjni’s ownership. “What happened to the Bjni plant can not fit into the legal framework,” he said.