The chief bodyguard of Gagik Tsarukian, an influential Armenian businessman and political figure, was arrested early on Tuesday on suspicion of beating up a man in Yerevan.
Eduard Babayan was taken into custody hours after the 50-year-old man was hospitalized with serious injuries. The latter claimed to have been brutally assaulted on Monday evening at a compound of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee headed by Tsarukian.
In a statement, the Armenian police cited the unidentified victim as saying that he was hit by Tsarukian before being repeatedly kicked and punched by Babayan and another person. He said that Armenia’s Minister for Emergency Situations Hrachya Rostomian, who is affiliated with Tsarukian’s political alliance, was “present at the incident,” added the statement.
A separate video released by the police featured a short interview with the injured man lying in a hospital bed. He claimed that he was attacked after asking Tsarukian to help ensure that Armenian law-enforcement authorities withdraw an international arrest warrant issued by them for his son accused of draft evasion.
According to the victim, the young man is a boxer and Russian national who is being forced to serve in Armenia’s armed forces after receiving Armenian citizenship in order to compete for the South Caucasus country in international tournaments.
Babayan reportedly turned himself in several hours after masked police officers raided a casino and other properties belonging to Tsarukian. According to Armenia’s Investigative Committee, the well-known bodyguard presented himself as an “assistant to the Olympic Committee chairman.”
A statement by the committee said investigators found traces of blood at the site of the alleged beating and asked a Yerevan court to allow them to search Babayan’s apartment.
Under Armenian law, they have to formally charge or free the 46-year-old within the next three days.The investigation is conducted under articles of the Criminal Code dealing with violent attacks carried out by “a group of individuals.”
The Investigative Committee reported later in the day that another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), will take over the inquiry and, in particular, look into Tsarukian’s possible involvement in the violence.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the 61-year-old tycoon, Iveta Tonoyan, flatly denied his involvement in the alleged beating. “Tsarukian definitely did not hit anyone,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
A political force led by Tsarukian boasts the second largest group in the Armenian parliament. It also has five ministerial portfolios in Armenia’s new government formed in May.
Armenian media have repeatedly implicated Tsarukian’s bodyguards and Babayan in particular in violence, including against opponents of the country’s previous governments, in the past. The tycoon always denied those allegations.