Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian on Monday dismissed pro-government lawmakers’ claims that he may be engaged in entrepreneurial activities in breach of Armenia’s constitution and laws.
Tsarukian responded to parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan in writing as he risked being stripped of his parliament seat because of the alleged violation.
The ruling My Step alliance led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian implicitly threatened last week to expel Tsarukian from the parliament amid mounting tensions with the BHK, which controls the second largest group in the National Assembly.
In a letter to Tsarukian, Mirzoyan said there are “legitimate concerns” and “reasonable” doubts about the BHK leader’s compliance with a constitutional provision that bars parliament deputies from engaging in business. The speaker publicized the letter on Thursday just hours after law-enforcement authorities pledged to investigate a small pro-government party’s claims that Tsarukian is flouting that ban.
Tsarukian and his associates had long denied such claims, saying that while he owns dozens of businesses they are not run by him on a day-to-day basis. The tycoon reiterated these assurances in a detailed written response to the speaker released by his spokesperson.
“I do not hold any position in any of the commercial firms founded by me and do not personally participate in their management,” he wrote. “Therefore, I object to your evaluations regarding the subject matter formulated as ‘justified concerns’ and ‘reasonable suspicions.’”
Tsarukian said that the “artificial” questions raised about his business interests are aimed at tarnishing his reputation.He claimed that he has never used his 16-year-long membership in the parliament to further those interests.
Mirzoyan and other critics have cited, among other things, Tsarukian’s recent 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.
Tsarukian insisted that he is primarily concerned about the fate of those workers, rather than profits made by the Ararat Tsement plant. He also said there is nothing wrong with his publicized contacts with local and foreign businesspeople considering investing in Armenia.
“I have for years used my personal connections and standing solely for the development of Armenia’s economy and strengthening of the country,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lilit Makunts, My Step’s parliamentary leader, complained on Monday that the existing legal provisions meant to separate business from politics are not specific enough. “We must eliminate that loophole as soon as possible,” Makunts told reporters.
“The line between business ownership and management is too fine,” she said. “Right now it’s impossible to tell what amounts to involvement in business and what doesn’t.”