Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), has been summoned by a law-enforcement agency for interrogation over an arson attack reported ahead of a weekend local election.
The election held on Sunday pitted the pro-Tsarukian incumbent mayor of Abovian, a small town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, against Grigor Gulian, a candidate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance. Mayor Vahagn Gevorgian narrowly defeated Gulian.
Gulian’s election campaign manager, Vahan Saribekian, said his car and apartment door were set on fire early on Saturday. He blamed the BHK for the attack.
Tsarukian’s party denied any responsibility for it. Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK claimed on Monday that attack was stage-managed by an unnamed “person trying to do the authorities favors” to discredit the mayor. Zohrabian said the Armenian police can easily identify that person.
Nobody has so far been detained in connection with the incident investigated by Armenia’s Investigative Committee. A spokesperson for the law-enforcement body told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Tsarukian will be questioned as a witness in the probe on Wednesday evening. No other BHK member has been summoned for questioning, the official said.
Tsarukian avoided an open involvement in the mayoral race in a local community that has long been his political stronghold. Still, his right-hand man, Eduard Babayan, and other senior BHK figures actively participated in the Abovian mayor’s reelection campaign.
The incumbent’s challenger was nominated and strongly backed by Pashinian’s My Step alliance. Pashinian personally led a rally held in Abovian in support of the pro-government candidate last week.
Pashinian’s relations with Tsarukian have been tense since April. In May, the pro-government majority in Armenia’s parliament implicitly threatened to strip Tsarukian of his parliament seat, saying that his entrepreneurial activities may be illegal. The BHK leader, who is one of Armenia’s richest men, insisted that he complies with a constitutional provision that bars lawmakers from directly engaging in business.