An Armenian law-enforcement agency has issued an arrest warrant for a former provincial governor notorious for violent conduct after bringing corruption charges against him.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on Wednesday that it has charged Suren Khachatrian, who governed Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province during former Presidents Serzh Sarkisian’s and Robert Kocharian’s rule, with abuse of power that caused “substantial damage to the state.”
An SIS statement said Khachatrian is specifically accused of having issued illegal orders to the mayors of two Syunik villages while in office. One of those village chiefs handed over his community’s irrigation pipes to Khachatrian’s brother while the other was forced to illegally sell land to a man picked by the governor, according to the statement.
The statement added that SIS investigators issued the arrest warrant for the once powerful ex-governor immediately after an Armenian court agreed to remand him in pre-trial custody on Tuesday.
Khachatrian, who reportedly underwent heart surgery in France earlier this year, denied the accusations in comments to Tert.am made later in the day. He said he has informed investigators through his lawyers that he is still in hospital and will return to Armenia after recovering from his “severe health problems.”
Khachatrian, who is better known to the public as “Liska,” was first appointed as governor of Syunik in 2004 by then President Kocharian. He was sacked in the wake of a 2013 shootout outside his villa in the provincial town of Goris, which left a local businessman dead.
Khachatrian’s son Tigran and one of the bodyguards were arrested and charged with murder at the time. But they were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.
President Sarkisian reinstated Khachatrian as Syunik governor in 2014. The latter retained his post even after his son was again arrested in 2015 in connection with a brutal beating of two men outside Goris. Tigran Khachatrian was set free two months later.
Suren Khachatrian was sacked again shortly after Karen Karapetian was appointed as Armenia’s prime minister in 2016.
Khachatrian had held sway in Goris and nearby villages since the early 1990s. Armenian media for years implicated him and his relatives in violent attacks on local business rivals as well as government critics. He always denied involvement in such incidents.
Official results of Armenian elections held before last year’s “Velvet Revolution” showed Sarkisian and his Republican Party (HHK) winning more votes in Syunik than in any other part of the country. Critics believe this is why Khachatrian managed to run the mountainous region for over a decade.
The 63-year-old is the fifth former senior official wanted by Armenian law-enforcement authorities for corruption or other crimes allegedly committed by them. They include former Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian who was charged early this year with receiving $14 million in bribes while in office.