Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian indicated on Tuesday that he will ignore a second summons from law-enforcement officials investigating an arson attack reported ahead of a recent local election won by a BHK-backed candidate.
The election was held on June 9 in the town of Abovian where Tsarukian has long held sway. Abovian’s incumbent Mayor Vahagn Gevorgian narrowly defeated his main challenger Grigor Gulian, who was nominated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.
The car and apartment door of Gulian’s election campaign manager, Vahan Saribekian, were set on fire one day before the vote. Saribekian blamed the BHK for the attack. Tsarukian and his associates strongly denied any involvement, saying that the incident was “fabricated” for political purposes.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee planned to question Tsarukian as a witness in the case on June 12. However, the wealthy businessman leading Armenia’s largest parliamentary opposition force did not show up for interrogation. He said that he was offended by the investigators’ order because he suspects that they deliberately avoid identifying those responsible for the incident.
The Investigative Committee afterwards sent another letter to Tsarukian saying that he must visit its headquarters in Yerevan and answer questions on Tuesday evening.
“There is no need for me to go there,” Tsarukian told reporters. “I signed a paper and sent it [to the committee] through my lawyer. It’s written there that what I said in my interview is my personal opinion.”
Tsarukian denied that his reluctance to be interrogated by the investigators runs counter to Armenia’s laws. He said that under the Armenian constitution parliament deputies cannot be persecuted or prosecuted for expressing their views.
A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, Naira Harutiunian, confirmed that the law-enforcement agency received a written explanation from Tsarukian’s lawyer. Harutiunian said the committee will keep taking “all necessary measures” to question him in connection with the Abovian incident.
A senior BHK figure, Gevorg Petrosian, suggested at the weekend that the summonses are part of a broader “attack” on Tsarukian aimed at intimidating and discrediting him. He put recent tax audits of businesses belonging to the BHK leader in the same context.
“But this attack cannot have a result desired by them,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Ararat Mirzoyan, the pro-government speaker of the Armenian parliament, denied on Monday any politically motivated pressures on the tycoon. “After all, everyone is equal before the law,” Mirzoyan said, adding that nobody can ignore summonses sent by law-enforcement bodies.
Tsarukian’s party controls the second largest number of seats in the parliament. Its relations with the government have been tense since April.
In May, the parliament’s pro-government majority 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.