The top manager of companies belonging to Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian denied on Friday fraud and tax evasion charges levelled against him last month.
The accusations do not relate to any of the several dozen firms making up Tsarukian’s Multi Group and stem from separate economic activities of the holding company’s chief executive, Sedrak Arustamian.
The Investigative Committee claimed on September 18 that Arustamian helped Sinohydro Corporation, a Chinese construction company building a 56-kilometer highway in northwestern Armenia, evade 240 million drams ($503,000) in taxes. It said Sinohydro paid an Armenian firm owned by Arustamian and run by two other men 117 million drams in fictitious consulting frees as part of the scam.
Both men were also indicted. One of them, Gurgen Sargsian, served as Armenia’s transport minister from 2008-2010. Sargsian was arrested earlier this week.
Investigators also moved to arrest Arurstamian when they brought the charges against him. An Armenian district court decided to grant him bail, however. Prosecutors appealed against the decision.
The Court of Appeals finished on Friday hearings on the legal challenge. It will announce on Monday whether Arustamian can be arrested pending investigation.
“I did not commit any crimes and am confident that the court will make the right dcision,” the business executive told reporters.
Asked whether he believes the charges are politically motivated, Arustamian said: “I have no connection whatsoever with politics.”
Representatives of the BHK, which is the country’s largest parliamentary opposition force, have indicated that they see no political motives behind the case. Arustamian’s daughter Nora is one of the 26 parliament deputies representing Tsarukian’s party.
The accusations against Tsarukian’s right-hand man are part of an ongoing extensive investigation into serious financial abuses allegedly committed during the implementation of a multimillion-dollar project to rebuild Armenia’s key highways. More than a dozen individuals have been indicted in the probe so far.
Five of them are currently on the run. They include the executive director of the Spanish company Corsan Corviam Construccion which was contracted by the former Armenian government in 2012 to upgrade more than 90 kilometers of roads.
The first two reconstructed highways connecting Yerevan to the towns of Ararat and Ashtarak were inaugurated in late 2015. Corsan never rebuilt the remaining 40-kilometer-long road covered by the $250 million contract.
The Investigative Committee claimed earlier this month that Corsan’s Armenian subcontractors were chosen by former President Serzh Sarkisian’s brother Levon in return for hefty kickbacks. Levon Sarkisian, who fled Armenia last year, was charged with bribery and money laundering as a result. He denied the accusations through a lawyer.