Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian believes there is a ‘political implication’ behind the recent arrest by Russian authorities of a Moscow-based Armenian businessman with close connections to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Speaking to media on Friday, Hovannisian, who heads the parliamentary Heritage party, called it particularly suspicious that the prosecution of Levon Hayrapetian over alleged criminal connections comes at a time when Armenia has ‘strained relations’ with its neighbors and is “facing a big choice of liberating itself and clarifying its relations with its strategic ally Russia”.
Hovannisian’s statements apparently refer to the recent escalation of tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border as well as the delay in Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union amid speculation that Russia would also like to see Azerbaijan as a member of the emerging bloc.
“I disagree with Armenia’s de-facto authorities that it [Hayrapetian’s arrest] has nothing to do with them and that it is a matter for the Russians to decide,” the oppositionist said.
Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian implied on Thursday that he saw nothing extraordinary in the arrest of Hayrapetian, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh who has made sizable investments in the unrecognized republic’s economy and conducted large-scale charity projects there over the course of many years.
“Today someone called Levon may be arrested, a Barkhudar may get arrested tomorrow and Simon the day after tomorrow,” he said, calling some random names.
“What does it have to do with me?” Abrahamian added.
To reporters’ remark that Hayrapetian is a great philanthropist and has done a lot of good work for the homeland, the Armenian prime minister said: “We are grateful to all philanthropists, but if people break the law and get arrested for that, what should we do about it?”
Heritage’s Hovannisian criticized the head of the government for such an attitude. “What happens to an Armenian does have to do with any official in Armenia,” he stressed.
Hayrapetian, 65, is considered to be one of the wealthiest Armenians in the world. He is known to have invested millions of dollars into developing Nagorno-Karabakh’s infrastructure and renovating the area’s historical-cultural monuments. His charity included a mass wedding for 700 Karabakhi couples in 2008 and sponsorship of the construction of a military college in Martakert.
A Moscow court on Thursday allowed Hayrapetian’s two-month arrest while investigators are looking into allegations that the businessman was involved in ‘illegal financial dealings’ in the purchase of an oil company a few years ago. Hayrapetian has already denied the charge.
Meanwhile, another top Moscow-based Armenian businessman, Ara Abrahamian (no relation to the prime minister), on Friday told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that they are doing everything possible at least to ensure that Hayrapetian, who reportedly has had some health problems of late, can be released pending investigation.
Abrahamian, who heads the Union of Armenians of Russia, said: “We believe that he [Hayrapetian] has done nothing wrong and that this is just a case of misunderstanding, an unfortunate event. We need to be patient, everything will be settled and Levon Hayrapetian will be released.”
Hayrapetian’s relatives and friends in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh also believe that he is not responsible for the crimes he is being accused of. Some of them have alleged an ‘Azerbaijani scheme’ behind the arrest of the businessman, saying that its aim is to harm Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian-Russian relations.