Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukyan speaks at an election campaign rally in Aragatsotn province, June 15, 2021

Armenian Authorities Seek to Dispossess Tsarukyan

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By Naira Bughadarian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — The Armenian authorities have moved to confiscate hundreds of millions of dollars in assets belonging to Gagik Tsarukyan, one of Armenia’s richest men leading a major opposition party.

The assets include the largest of Tsarukyan’s companies and about 90 properties owned by him or members of his family. The authorities are also seeking to seize over 86 billion drams ($213 million) in revenue generated by them. All this may well account for most of the vast fortune made by the tycoon since the early 1990s.

The Office of the Prosecutor-General announced late last week that it has asked an Armenian court to approve the seizures in accordance with a controversial law that allows the authorities to confiscate assets deemed to have been acquired illegally. It said the court has already agreed to freeze them pending a verdict in the case.

A statement released by the law-enforcement agency did not publish any evidence in support of its claims that Tsarukyan and his family have amassed their wealth illegally. The tycoon’s lawyers were quick to reject the claims and insist that “the origin of Gagik Tsarukyan’s assets is legal.”

“There is weighty evidence of that, which will be presented to the court and the Office of the Prosecutor-General as soon as possible,” they said in a statement.

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The lawyers declined to comment further when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service at the weekend. It thus remained unclear whether they see any political motives behind the case.

Tsarukyan is the founding leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) that had the second largest group in the country’s former parliament. It challenged Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and demanded his resignation even before the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tsarukyan was charged with vote buying and arrested in September 2020 just days before the outbreak of the war. The BHK leader, who rejected the accusations as politically motivated, was released on bail one month later.

Like other opposition groups, the BHK blamed Pashinyan for Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war and tried to topple him. It failed to win any parliament seats in snap general elections held in June 2021. Tsarukyan has kept a low profile since then.

The law invoked by the prosecutors allows them to seek asset forfeiture in case of having “sufficient grounds to suspect” that the market value of an individual’s properties exceeds their “legal income” by at least 50 million drams ($100,000). Armenian courts can allow the nationalization of such assets even if their owners are not found guilty of corruption or other criminal offenses.

Over the past two years the prosecutors have petitioned the courts to dispossess dozens of former officials, including ex-Presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, and their relatives. So far there have been no court verdicts in any of those cases. Tsarukyan is apparently the first person who risks losing his assets despite having never held any executive posts in government.

Pashinyan has repeatedly portrayed the law in question as a major anti-corruption measure that will help his administration recover “wealth stolen from the people.” Opposition figures counter, however, that Pashinyan is simply eager to suppress dissent and cement his hold on power.

In November 2021, opposition lawmakers appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the law unconstitutional. They said that it contradicts articles of the Armenian constitution guaranteeing the presumption of innocence and property rights. The court, dominated by judges installed by the current government, has still not ruled on the appeal.

Also, Pashinyan is facing growing media allegations that members of his entourage themselves are enriching themselves or their cronies. In February this year, the prime minister publicly urged senior officials to sue publications “falsely” accusing them of illicit enrichment. In March, hackers hijacked the YouTube channel of an Armenian newspaper just as it was about to publish a video report detailing expensive property acquisitions by several senior government officials and pro-government lawmakers.

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