A town mayor linked to businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Thursday strongly denied criminal charges brought against him earlier this week.
Mayor Vahagn Gevorgian of Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, was charged with criminal negligence. Prosecutors said that he deliberately failed to stop a private company from “seizing” municipal land in Abovian and illegally constructing apartment blocks there.
Gevorgian admitted that the company, which is part of Tsarukian’s Multi Group conglomerate, occupied a 2,000-square-meter plot of land and lacked other permits to build a residential complex in his community. But he argued that the Abovian municipality twice fined it and suspended the construction last year.
Speaking to journalists at the construction site, Gevorgian said the municipality did not move to tear down the incomplete buildings because Multi Group formally asked it to legalize them in accordance with an Armenian law. He also stressed that Tsarukian’s company plans to build around 1,000 apartments in what would be the first affordable housing project implemented in Abovian since Soviet times.
A spokesman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, Gor Abrahamian, insisted, however, that Gevorgian was obliged to take tougher measures against the real estate developer.
Another law-enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, formally indicted Gevorgian on Monday despite the fact that the Armenian police investigated the redevelopment project and cleared the mayor of any wrongdoing last year.
The police inquiry was ordered by prosecutors in July 2019 one month after Gevorgian narrowly won reelection in a tightly contested mayoral vote. His main challenger was a candidate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.
Pashinian personally campaigned for the pro-government candidate.Tensions between the prime minister’s political team and Tsarukian’s BHK, which is Armenia’s largest parliamentary opposition force, ran high during the mayoral race.
Gevorgian said he does not yet see political motives behind the charges leveled against him. “I think this is the result of a misunderstanding and everything will be sorted out,” said the Abovian mayor.
Abovian has long been a political and economic stronghold of Tsarukian.