Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading Armenia’s largest parliamentary opposition force, might be expelled from the National Assembly as a result of an inquiry ordered by prosecutors on Thursday.
In a “crime report” submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor-General on Monday, a small and reputedly pro-government party said Tsarukian may be combining his membership in the National Assembly with entrepreneurial activity in breach of the Armenian constitution. The party called the Citizen’s Decision asked law-enforcement authorities to launch a criminal investigation and determine whether this is the case.
“We have sent that report to the Special Investigative Service (SIS),” said Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian. “The SIS was instructed to … take verification measures as a result of which the investigative body will have to make a legal evaluation.”
“We need to look into that report in great detail and answer all questions,” Davtian told reporters.
In a separate letter to parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, the Citizen’s Decision called for the creation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission that would also look into the issue and, if necessary, ask the Constitutional Court to strip Tsarukian of his parliament seat. Mirzoyan and other senior lawmakers representing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc discussed the petition behind the closed doors earlier this week.
The developments came amid mounting tensions between the ruling bloc and Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (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 in early April.
Senior representatives of the two political forces traded fresh accusations on the parliament floor on April 18 as the National Assembly debated a government proposal to impose tariffs on cement imported to Armenia. 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.
During the heated debates some My Step deputies accused Tsarukian of mixing politics with business. The latter rejected the accusations, comparing himself to U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The constitution bars Armenian parliamentarians from engaging in business. The BHK maintains that its wealthy leader meets this requirement because he only owns dozens of businesses and does not manage them on a day-to-day basis.
“This is a ludicrous initiative which is doomed to fail,” Vahe Enfiajian, a senior BHK lawmaker, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, commenting on the Citizen’s Decision move.
Enfiajian warned of a “very tough” BHK response to any attempt to oust Tsarukian from the parliament but did not elaborate. He did not deny a newspaper report which said that all 25 other BHK deputies will resign from the 132-member parliament if their leader is stripped of his seat.
Tsarukian himself reacted cautiously to the probe ordered by the prosecutors. “Since there was a complaint, they have to look into it,” he said, refusing to comment further.
Tsarukian’s party supported Pashinian-led mass protests that toppled the country’s former government one year ago. It helped Pashinian become prime minister and joined his first cabinet formed in May 2018. The premier fired his ministers affiliated with BHK in October, accusing the BHK of secretly collaborating with the former ruling Republican Party.