Saribek Sukiasian and one of his top managers 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 with “illegally depriving a person of their liberty motivated by material gain,” a crime punishable by between three and five years’ imprisonment. Both the businessman and other suspect, Artashes Stepanian, who was also charged with illegal arms possession, have strongly denied the accusations.
One of their lawyers, Lusine Sahakian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that police investigators have terminated the criminal proceedings after finding no incriminating evidence against their clients. She said a relevant decision was signed by them, in writing, last week.
Sahakian and other defense lawyers have claimed all along that the case was brought to prevent the Sukiasian brothers from purchasing Byuregh, 80 percent of which was owned by Davtian and another businessman until recently.
The Sukiasians had 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 say Davtian visited the SIL headquarters on February 12 to ask Sukiasian for protection against Ruben Hayrapetian, an influential tycoon with close government connections. They say he used threats to warn Davtian against selling his Byuregh shares to Sukiasian.
Hayrapetian, who is also the chairman of the Armenian Football Federation, managed to get hold of the company in late February. He denied afterwards any role in Sukiasian’s prosecution and insisted that he did not coerce any of the Byuregh shareholders into selling their shares to him.
The government-linked tycoon already acquired late last year another water plant that was owned by the Sukiasian family 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.