Armenia: prominent businessman, opposition leader brought in for questioning, protest breaks out despite epidemic regulations
A protest took place in Yerevan on June 14 in front of the house of prominent businessman and leader of parliamentary opposition party Prosperous Armenia, Gagik Tsarukyan.
Tsarukyan’s house was being searched by the National Security Service. He was then asked to the National Security Service for questioning.
Despite the fact large public events are still prohibited in the country due to the coronavirus epidemic, Prosperous Armenia supporters still gathered in protest.
Some protesters were detained, as they and Gagik Tsarukyan consider the event political persecution, and in response to his appeal for a change of government.
The reasons for the search and interrogation
The National Security Service of Armenia issued a statement on the illegal activities of companies belonging to Tsarukyan, as a result of which the state budget suffered tens of millions of dollars of damage.
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Then the National Security Service reported that cases had been revealed of a group of Prosperous Armenia party members distributing bribes to voters.
This concerns the parliamentary elections of 2017.
Dozens of searches were made, during which documents containing detailed records confirming the fact of the distribution of bribes were seized.
Some members of the My Step ruling bloc, including Vice-Speaker of the Parliament Alen Simonyan, published documents on their pages on social media that indicate to whom and what specific amounts were issued.
The list also contains an amount allotted to journalists – 750,000 drams (about 1,500 dollars), “assistance to the population” – 3,000,000 drams (a little more than 6,000 USD).
Statement by Gagik Tsarukyan
Immediately after the search of his house, Tsarukyan, one of the largest businessmen in Armenia, told the assembled journalists and his supporters that he was being subjected to political persecution:
“They want to put pressure [on me], to blackmail. But I, Gagik Tsarukyan, say that I will be the son of an immoral woman, if I back off, no matter what they do, no matter what they try and pin on me.”
On June 5, he called for a “100% change of government.” He said that the government that came to power after the velvet revolution of 2018 did not live up to the hopes of the people and should leave.
Tsarukyan recalled that a year ago he already said that the government is not coping with its tasks:
“I then said that if they want change, then you need to change 97% of the composition. But today, seeing all these failures and setbacks, I believe that completely, 100%, it is necessary to change the government. It’s unpleasant for me to say this, but we see that all spheres have failed.”
Pashinyan himself did not comment on the oligarch’s statements.
However, his spokesman, Mane Gevorgyan, wrote on her Facebook page that Gagik Tsarukyan was concerned about the investigation of a number of criminal cases related to his name:
“If Mr. Tsarukyan believes that his political statements violate the normal course of the investigation, then he is mistaken in his calculations, since in Armenia everyone is equal before the law. Including the law on confiscation of illegally acquired property, and here Mr. Tsarukyan may also have cause for concern.”
The reaction of party members
Prosperous Armenia party members also see what is happening as political persecution. They claim that the actions of law enforcement agencies are illegal, the distribution of a bribe document is false, and the country itself is becoming a dictatorship of the current authorities.
According to them, the authorities began political repressions against the opposition party and made unproven accusations against its leader, forgetting the presumption of innocence.
Deputy Naira Zohrabyan called the events unfolding around the party leader a farce:
“This is the beginning of the end of the ruling political power. All this creates the impression of deja vu. In the apartments of many of our party members and supporters, there are currently National Security Service officers. This government simply does not tolerate dissent.”
MPs from Prosperous Armenia believe that there is an act of violence not only against the party, but also against the citizens of Armenia as a whole. They stated that they have information that a decision has already been made to arrest Gagik Tsarukyan, for which a parliament meeting will be convened on June 15 to deprive him of parliamentary immunity.