Hovsepian told journalists that the chief prosecutors of Yerevan and its southern Erebuni districts have been tasked with ensuring that the police respect the due process of law in the ongoing investigation condemned by the Sukiasian family and the Armenian opposition.
He said they will specifically have to make sure that “all the evidence is collected within the bounds of law.” Hovsepian did not clarify whether that means the prosecutors doubt the legality of the police actions taken against Saribek Sukiasian until now.
Sukiasian and one of his employees were arrested on February 12 in a police raid on the head offices of the SIL Concern group belonging to his extended family. They both were released pending investigation three days later.
The police said initially that the two men are suspected of threatening to kill a fellow entrepreneur, Gor Davtian. A police statement issued on February 12 cited Davtian as alleging that Sukiasian forced him to sign “some documents” relating to his shares in a mineral water company called Byuregh.
Police officials said several days later, however, that Davtian did not hear death threats from Sukiasian and was only forcibly kept in the SIL headquarters for several hours. Contradicting the initial police statement, they claimed that the police raid was actually aimed at rescuing the “imprisoned” businessman.
Accordingly, Sukiasian was charged under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with “illegally depriving a person of their liberty motivated by material gain.” The crime is punishable by between three and five years’ imprisonment.
The conflicting police statements only raised more questions about the credibility of the case which Sukiasian says is part of a continuing government vendetta waged against his family. His lawyers said on Tuesday that it is aimed at preventing the Sukiasians from purchasing Byuregh, 80 percent of which has until now been owned by Davtian and another businessman.
The Sukiasians already bought the commanding stake from the two men in late 2008. An Armenian court controversially annulled the deal last November.
According to Saribek Sukiasian’s lawyers, the two sides were close to signing another takeover agreement in the weeks leading up to the police inquiry. They said Davtian visited the SIL headquarters on February 12 to ask Sukiasian for protection against Ruben Hayrapetian, an influential tycoon with close government connections. They said Hayrapetian used threats to warn Davtian against selling his Byuregh shares to Sukiasian.
“He was also summoned by security bodies, including the prosecutor’s office, and told to sell his shares to Ruben Hayrapetian,” one of the lawyers, Lusine Sahakian, told a news conference.
Hayrapetian, who also heads the Armenian Football Federation, already bought late last year another water plant that was owned by the Sukiasians until being confiscated by the Armenian government. Tax officials raided the Bjni company and accused it of large-scale tax evasion shortly after Khachatur Sukiasian publicly voiced support for opposition Levon Ter-Petrosian in September 2007.
Saribek’s lawyers again dismissed the charges brought against their client and alleged numerous due process violations by the police. They also claimed to have photo and video evidence of Davtian leaving the SIL offices less than 20 minutes before the police raid.
The businessman’s whereabouts have been unknown since the launch of the police investigation. A spokesman for the Armenian police, Sayat Shirinian, on Wednesday denied newspaper reports that Davtian has fled Armenia.