Police raided on Friday the home of Ruben Hayrapetian, a controversial businessman who had close ties to Armenia’s former leadership, and companies belonging to him in an apparent criminal investigation into his commercial activities.
Officers of a feared police unit dealing with grave crimes spent nearly five hours searching Hayrapetian’s mansion in Yerevan. They refused to talk to reporters while leaving the villa with what appeared to be confiscated documents.
Also searched were a restaurant and several other businesses belonging to the once powerful tycoon who headed the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) from 2002-2018.
A spokesman for the Armenian police told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the raids were part of a criminal case opened by law-enforcement authorities. He refused to specify what Hayrapetian is suspected of, saying that the police will make a statement soon. No such statement was issued as of 8 p.m. local time.
Hayrapetian was reluctant to talk to journalists standing at the entrance to his sprawling compound in Yerevan’s northern Avan suburb when he approached and urged them disperse after the search. “They are not arresting me,” he said.
Asked what the police officers found in his house, he replied with sarcasm: “One Su-35 fighter jet, one T-90 tank and several BMP and BTR [armored personnel carriers.]”
Hayrapetian also advised the journalists to ask the FFA’s current deputy chairman, Armen Nikoghosian, about reasons for the criminal investigation.
“I honestly don’t know why he mentioned my name because I’m not a police or National Security Service chief,” Nikoghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service later in the day. He said he is not aware of any details of the inquiry.
According to unconfirmed media reports, the police suspect Hayrapetian of misusing FFA funds allocated for the construction of pitches and other football facilities in Armenia.
Other media outlets have claimed that the Armenian authorities are seeking to prevent the 56-year-old businessman from installing one of his friends as new FFA chairman during the federation’s upcoming congress. They say that the FFA’s acting chairman, Armen Melikbekian, is the authorities’ preferred candidate for the post.
Hayrapetian was forced to resign as federation head in September 2018 four months after the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Armenian’s former leadership. He was replaced by Artur Vanetsian, the new head of the country’s National Security Service (NSS).
Vanetsian fell out with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and was sacked in September this year. He also resigned FFA chairman last month under apparent pressure from government officials and pro-government lawmakers sitting on the federation’s Executive Committee.
Hayrapetian, who is commonly known as “Nemets Rubo,” has long been dogged by controversy resulting from his reportedly violent conduct. In 2015, for example, he avoided prosecution despite admitting that he beat up another entrepreneur.
Hayrapetian strongly supported former President Serzh Sarkisian and represented the latter’s Republican Party in the Armenian parliament. He had to resign from the parliament in 2012 following a brutal attack on several army medics who dined at his Yerevan restaurant. One of them died while two others were seriously injured after arguing with men working at the restaurant.