Armenian law-enforcement authorities indicated on Friday that they will not prosecute the owner of a large jewelry market in Yerevan who has punished its traders taking part in ongoing protests against new taxation rules introduced by the government.
The businessman, Vagharsh Abrahamian, and his aides were on Thursday caught on camera smashing and removing their stalls from the market located in the city center. “Throw them out of the window,” he is shown shouting in video of the incident posted on the website of the “Zhoghovurd” daily.
Abrahamian told the paper that he is thus punishing the traders who ignored his orders not to take part in the demonstrations. “I did the right thing and I will keep doing that if need be,” he said.
The wealthy entrepreneur was just as unrepentant when he spoke to another publication, ilur.am, later in the day. Asked why he is forcing out the disgruntled traders, he said, “Because they are lousy people. They care about their businesses but hinder my business.”
Abrahamian raged as hundreds of small traders from his and other retail markets again rallied outside Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s office to demand the repeal of a government bill effective from October 1. It obligates them to show tax officials documentary evidence of every transaction with wholesale suppliers of goods or face hefty fines. The traders say that the suppliers often refuse to issue receipts.
The Armenian police said on Friday that they cannot launch criminal proceedings against Abrahamian. A police spokesman cited the absence of a formal complaint from the traders.
In a further sign that Abrahamian will avoid prosecution, the Office of the Prosecutor-General declined to respond to written questions on the issue sent by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Tatevik Khachatrian, Armenia’s deputy human rights ombudsman, denounced both Abrahamian and the law-enforcement authorities. She accused the businessman of violating the Armenian constitution and laws guaranteeing citizens’ right to peaceful protests.
“By law, law-enforcement bodies -- the police, the prosecutors, the Investigative Committee -- can open a criminal case on the basis of crime reports appearing in the media,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Law-enforcement bodies should have at least looked into the matter to see whether those actions carried elements of a crime.”
Vartan Harutiunian, a human rights activist and Soviet-era dissident, also condemned the market owner’s actions as illegal. “It is the kind of behavior which is encouraged by the Armenian authorities,” he said. “A different type of businessman inevitably gets in trouble in Armenia.”