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Tsarukian-Owned Casino Faces Closure


Armenia -- The Shangri La casino outside Yerevan.

A government body has revoked the operating license of a company managing Armenia’s largest casino owned by embattled businessman and opposition leader Gagik Tsarukian.

In its decision posted on a government website late on Thursday, a Ministry of Finance commission regulating gambling activities in the country said the Onira Club company failed to make in 2018 a mandatory payment to the state stemming from the license. The commission also accused it of violating an Armenian law on gambling.

The decision suggests that the Shangri La casino run by Onira will be shut down at least temporarily. The company, which is also part of Tsarukian’s Multi Group conglomerate, did not immediately react to it.

Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) accused Onira and Shangri La of large-scale fraud hours after searching Tsarukian’s villa as part of a separate criminal investigation on June 14. The NSS claimed that the financial irregularities cost the state more than 29 billion drams ($60 million) in damage.

Onira strongly denied the allegations in a statement issued on June 15. It also insisted that Tsarukian, who leads the main opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), was never directly involved in its day-to-day activities and cannot be held responsible for them.

Also on June 15, the Armenian parliament controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc voted to allow the NSS to arrest and prosecute Tsarukian on charges of buying votes during parliamentary elections held in 2017.

Tsarukian and his party strongly deny the accusations. They claim that Pashinian ordered the NSS to “fabricate” them in response to the BHK leader’s June 5 calls for the Armenian government’s resignation. The prime minister and his allies deny this.

A district court in Yerevan refused to sanction Tsarukian’s pre-trial arrest on June 21. The Court of Appeals overturned the verdict earlier this week. But it stopped short of allowing investigators to take the tycoon into custody, ordering the lower court instead to hold new hearings on the arrest warrant.

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