YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Police in Yerevan detained on Friday a brother of the prominent pro-opposition businessman Khachatur Sukiasian, saying that he is suspected of threatening to kill a fellow entrepreneur.
Saribek Sukiasian and one of his associates, Artash Stepanian, were forcibly taken to a police station in the city’s Erebuni district from the offices of the Sukiasian family’s SIL Concern holding company. Office employees said scores of police officers broke into the offices, shattering office doors and refusing to give any explanation.
A police statement issued later in the evening said the raid was prompted by a complaint from a Yerevan resident identified as Gor Davtian. It said that Sukiasian and Stepanian forced Davtian to sign “some documents” relating to his shares in a little-known company called Byuregh.
The statement said that Davtian sold his 41 percent stake in Byuregh to Sukiasian’s wife in October 2008 but that Armenia’s Court of Cassation annulled the deal last November. It said Davtian faced “real death threats” when he visited Sukiasian earlier on Friday and informed the latter that he has found another buyer for the shares.
The police did not give further details. Nor did it say whether Sukiasian will be formally charged or put under arrest. The businessman, who has managed SIL companies since his elder brother went into hiding in March 2008, remained in police custody as of late evening.
The police statement based on Davtian’s claims was issued shortly before the Erebuni police let three Sukiasian lawyers visit their client. The lawyers claimed to be unaware of the reason for his detention as they waited outside the police station about two hours before that.
“We are trying to approach our client and give him legal assistance, but the police won’t let us do that,” one of them, Ara Zohrabian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They say their boss is very busy right now,” he said.
The detention came just one month after the Armenian authorities completed a highly controversial confiscation of a mineral water plant that belonged to the Sukiasian family. The Bjni plant was put up for sale last year after its owners refused to pay almost 5.2 billion drams ($13.6 million) in fines imposed for alleged tax evasion. The Sukiasian brothers rejected the accusation as baseless and politically motivated.
Bjni and several other companies making up SIL Concern were raided by tax officials and accused of large-scale tax fraud shortly after Khachatur Sukiasian voiced support in September 2007 for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power. The tycoon was among several Ter-Petrosian associates who fled the country to escape arrest following the February 2008 presidential election.
Khachatur Sukiasian surrendered to the police in September and was set free three days later despite remaining charged with organizing the March 2008 “mass riots” in Yerevan. Law-enforcement also allowed him to leave the country, ostensibly for receiving medical treatment abroad.