Adding to pressure on Gagik Tsarukian, parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan has challenged the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) to publicly dispel “reasonable” doubts about the legality of his entrepreneurial activities.
In a letter to Tsarukian, Mirzoyan said there are “legitimate concerns” about Tsarukian’s compliance with a constitutional provision that bars parliament deputies from engaging in business.
Mirzoyan publicized the letter late on Thursday just hours after law-enforcement authorities pledged to investigate a small pro-government party’s claims that Tsarukian is flouting that ban.
The party called the Citizen’s Decision also appealed to the speaker earlier this week. It urged him to set up an ad hoc ethics commission that would look into the matter and, if necessary, ask the Constitutional Court to expel Tsarukian from the parliament.
Mirzoyan, who is a close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, indicated in his letter that he will not initiate such a parliamentary inquiry. Still, he said that Tsarukian “should at least present detailed public clarifications regarding the issue.”
A senior BHK lawmaker, Sergey Bagratian, essentially dismissed the demand on Friday. He said the onus is on the authorities to prove that Tsarukian has violated the constitution.
“It’s not Mr. Tsarukian who should prove that he has not been engaged in business,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It’s the political force making such statements which must prove that Mr. Tsarukian is engaged in business.”
Bagratian argued that neither the Central Election Commission nor any political force, including Pashinian’s My Step bloc, had objected to his participation in the December 2018 general elections.
Tsarukian and his associates maintain that while the BHK leader owns dozens of businesses they are not run by him on a day-to-day basis.
My Step lawmakers began questioning these assurances last month amid mounting tensions between Pashinian’s bloc and Tsarukian’s party, which is Armenia’s largest parliamentary opposition force. They cited Tsarukian’s calls for the government to impose hefty tariffs on imports of cement to Armenia.
The tycoon owns the country’s largest cement plant which is increasingly struggling to compete with cheaper cement imported from neighboring Iran. He has warned that it could lay off the vast majority of its 1,100 workers.
Earlier in April, Tsarukian criticized the Pashinian government’s economic policies, saying that they have not attracted major investments and boosted living standards in the country. Some of his businesses were raided by tax officials afterwards. The State Revenue Committee denied any political reasons for the tax audits.
The inquiry into Tsarukian’s involvement in business, which was ordered by prosecutors, raised the possibility of the tycoon being stripped of his parliament seat. Vahe Enfiajian, another senior BHK figure, on Thursday did not deny a newspaper report which said that all 25 other BHK deputies will resign from the 132-member parliament if their leader loses the seat.