The Armenian authorities categorically denied on Thursday any political motives behind a recent inspection conducted at a cement plant belonging to Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) increasingly critical of the government.
Senior government and law-enforcement officials insisted that the plant located in the southern town of Ararat was raided by police and temporarily disconnected from water supplies as part of a broader criminal investigation into misuse of water resources in the surrounding province also called Ararat.
Those inspections came just days after Tsarukian stepped up his criticism of the government’s economic policies in a speech at a BHK congress held on February 15. Senior BHK representatives claim that the authorities are trying to hold the tycoon in check by targeting one of his largest companies.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian mentioned those allegations and asked Environment Protection Minister Aram Harutiunian to disprove them as he opened a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. Harutiunian said that the authorities shut down for several days a pumping station supplying water to the cement plant and nearby villages only with the aim of detecting businesses illegally using that water.
“As a result of that, we identified a number of illegal water users, including fish farms,” he told fellow cabinet members. He insisted that the “test shutdown” was therefore not politically motivated.
Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian likewise dismissed the BHK claims. He said that the Tsarukian-owned plant is one of over 100 local businesses inspected by police and environment protection officials as part of the ongoing investigation.
“The criminal case was opened more than two months ago,” Kostanian argued at a news conference. “There have been media reports about that … The inspections began immediately after the opening of the criminal case.”
“We are only talking about investigative actions,” he said. “Nobody has been charged or identified as a suspect yet.”