Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian denied on Wednesday any connection between his political activities and business interests, comparing himself to U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Tsarukian was accused by pro-government lawmakers of mixing politics and business during last week’s heated debates in the Armenian parliament on a government proposal to impose tariffs on cement imported to the country. The tycoon and his allies said the proposed measure is not far-reaching enough to protect domestic cement manufacturers.
The largest of them, the Ararat Tsement plant, is owned by Tsarukian. The latter has warned that he could lay off most of its 1,100 workers unless the tariffs also apply to Iranian clinker, a material developed before the final stage of cement production.
Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc said Tsarukian’s position on the issue is motivated by his personal business interests. One of them, former journalist Hayk Gevorgian, told the tycoon to make a choice between business and politics.
“He is too little a person [to make such statements,] let him go back to journalism,” Tsarukian said of Gevorgian. “All over the world successful politicians are business owners,” he added, pointing to Trump and Berlusconi.
Tsarukian insisted that he is concerned about the fate of Ararat Tsement workers, rather than his profits.
The Armenian constitution bars members of the National Assembly from engaging in entrepreneurial activity. The BHK leader claims that he meets this requirement because he only owns dozens of businesses and does not manage them.
The cement tax controversy came amid mounting tensions between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step and the opposition BHK which has the second largest group in the parliament. Some Tsarukian-owned businesses were raided by tax officials shortly after the BHK leader criticized the government’s economic policies early this month. The State Revenue Committee denied that the tax audits are politically motivated.
Senior representatives of the two political forces traded fresh accusations on the parliament floor on April 18. Pashinian and Tsarukian met to discuss the cement dispute and other contentious issues later that day.
“The [economic] issues that we discussed found solutions,” Tsarukian told reporters on Wednesday. He did not elaborate.
Tsarukian also stood by his criticism of the current government’s track record, saying that the economic situation in Armenia has not improved since Pashinian came to power almost a year ago. “I’m not saying there have been no changes,” he said. “But there has been no socioeconomic change and that’s the main problem.”