Ruben Hayrapetian, a controversial government-linked businessman heading the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA), will not be prosecuted despite admitting beating up another entrepreneur, law-enforcement authorities in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said it will not press criminal charges against Hayrapetian because of his “reconciliation” with the injured victim, Arsen Avetisian.
The development is certain to reinforce a widely held belief in Armenia that influential tycoons close to President Serzh Sarkisian and notorious for violent conduct enjoy de facto immunity from prosecution owing to their strong loyalty to the ruling regime.
Avetisian, who is the chief executive and majority shareholder of the Air Armenia airline, was assaulted and injured during an August 15 meeting with Hayrapetian that centered on some of the company’s massive debts. He was hospitalized with a broken nose and other injuries as a result. Avetisian’s wife, Izabella Melkumian, appealed to President Sarkisian the following day, saying that the lives of the businessman and his family members are in danger.
Avetisian announced on August 20 that he has accepted a “reconciliation offer” made by his presumed attacker and will not comment on the incident for now. He cited the need to save Air Armenia from bankruptcy.
In a lengthy statement released on Tuesday, the prosecutors said that the Air Armenia chief has not lodged a formal complaint against Hayrapetian because the two men have “made peace with one another.” They said this gave them sufficient legal grounds for not levelling assault charges against Hayrapetian.
The statement said the victim testified on August 19 that contrary to his wife’s claims he was not kidnapped by the feared oligarch and his bodyguards following the beating, which occurred in a Yerevan café located at the premises of the FFA’s Football Academy. Therefore, it said, Hayrapetian cannot be prosecuted on kidnapping charges either.
According to the prosecutors, Hayrapetian acknowledged punching and repeatedly kicking Avetisian when he was questioned by law-enforcement officials last week. They said the tycoon confirmed that the violence stemmed from Air Armenia’s failure to repay an outstanding debt to one of his “friends.”
Air Armenia, which suspended its regular flights to a dozen destinations in Russia and Europe late last year, has millions of dollars in unpaid debts to several Armenian banks and other firms. Some of those banks took it to court earlier this year.
Avetisian was attacked the day after a British-registered but Ukrainian-based investment fund holding a 49 percent stake in Air Armenia pledged to invest an additional $68 million in the troubled carrier.
In fresh comments to RFE/RL made over the weekend, the chief executive of the East Prospect Fund, Vladimir Bobylev, reiterated his strong condemnation of the violence, calling it an act of “savagery” and urging the Armenian authorities to prevent more such incidents. Even so, Bobylev stopped short of demanding Hayrapetian’s prosecution. “We hope that the matter will get a solution acceptable to all parties,” he said.
The fund manager further made clear that East Prospect will not reconsider its involvement in the Armenian civil aviation sector after the assault. He said the company has already made significant investments in the Armenian airline and continues to regard Avetisian as a “person whom we trust.”
By contrast, Bobylev warned last week that Avetisian’s beating put the East Prospect investments in Armenia at serious risk. In that context, he avoided citing any possible dates for the resumption of Air Armenia flights.
The August 15 assault happened just over three years after a brutal attack on several Armenian army medics who dined at Yerevan’s Harsnakar restaurant owned by Hayrapetian’s family. One of them, Vahe Avetian, died while two others were seriously injured after arguing with burly men working at the restaurant.
Avetian’s death shocked the nation, sparking angry protests by civic activists outside the restaurant as well as Hayrapetian’s nearby villa against what they saw as a manifestation of impunity enjoyed by government-linked oligarchs.
The outcry forced Hayrapetian to resign as member of the Armenian parliament and apologize to Avetian’s family. But he stayed on as FFA head, denying any involvement in the beating. Some media outlets accused him sanctioning or even ordering the violence, however. In March 2014, six men thought to be Hayrapetian’s bodyguards were convicted of Avetian’s murder and sentenced to 12 years prison.
Hayrapetian continued to face allegations of violent conduct event after the Harsnakar incident. Later in 2012, he was accused of beating up a doctor working for FC Pyunik, a football club controlled by him. In 2014, he allegedly verbally and physically abused a Pyunik player during a football match in Yerevan. Hayrapetian denied those allegations through the FFA’s press service.
Hayrapetian, 52, has been a staunch backer of President Sarkisian throughout the latter’s seven-year rule. The tycoon holds sway in Yerevan’s northern Avan suburb, putting him in a position to earn Sarkisian and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) many votes there. Armenian opposition groups have accused him of bullying and attacking their local activists in the past.