Law-enforcement authorities on Monday asked the Armenian parliament to allow them to arrest Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading its largest opposition group, on charges which he and his allies reject as politically motivated.
Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan said he received a relevant motion from Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian and included it on the agenda of a National Assembly session scheduled for Tuesday.
In the motion publicized by his office, Davtian claimed that Tsarukian “created and led an organized group” that bought more than 17,000 votes for his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) during parliamentary elections held in April 2017.
The chief prosecutor said the vote bribes were handed out to residents of the Gegharkunik province. Each of them received 10,000 drams ($21), he said, adding that the National Security Service (NSS) has collected documents and testimony corroborating these accusations.
Davtian made no mention of two other Tsarukian-related criminal cases opened by the NSS. The security service accused companies owned by the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of large-scale fraud after raiding his villa outside Yerevan on Sunday. It then interrogated him for more than eight hours.
In a written statement issued several hours before the announcement of the authorities’ decision to seek his arrest, Tsarukian again denounced the crackdown as government retribution for his demands for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. He stood by his claims that Pashinian’s government has mishandled Armenia’s worsening coronavirus crisis and failed to mitigate its severe socioeconomic consequences.
“Instead of solving problems and doing difficult but real work, the authorities are terrorizing their opponents,” he said.
“I am prepared for any scenario,” the BHK leader added, alluding to his possible arrest. “I am appealing to my fellow citizens: don’t get depressed, everything will be fine, and we will overcome this crisis even if the authorities and Nikol Pashinian personally do everything to aggravate the situation.”
Tsarukian met with BHK parliamentarians earlier in the day. One of them, Arman Abovian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the tycoon was “in very high spirits.”
Another senior BHK figure, Naira Zohrabian, claimed in the morning that the authorities have made a “political decision” to lift Tsarukian’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution. “Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian still has a chance not to execute the political order,” she said.
Davtian’s spokesman, Gor Abrahamian, countered that Tsarukian cannot be prosecuted for political reasons.
Pashinian and senior representatives of his My Step bloc also denied any political motives behind the crackdown. Some of them posted on their Facebook pages supposedly confidential details of the criminal investigations which they said substantiate the NSS allegations.
Tsarukian’s party was officially in opposition to then President Serzh Sarkisian when it ran for the parliament in the April 2017 elections. One year later, it backed the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian, helped Pashinian become prime minister and joined his first cabinet formed in May 2018.
Pashinian fired his ministers affiliated with BHK in October 2018, accusing Tsarukian of secretly collaborating with the former regime.
The BHK came in a distant second in the December 2018 parliamentary elections and won 26 seats in Armenia’s 132-member parliament.
Pashinian’s My Step controls 88 parliament seats, putting it in a position to give the green to Tsarukian’s arrest and prosecution.