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Armenian Police Release Pro-Opposition Businessman's Brother

Saribek Sukiasian

Saribek Sukiasian

YEREVAN -- Armenian police have released the brother of pro-opposition businessman Khachatur Sukiasian and an associate after they agreed on Monday not to leave Yerevan while charges that they made death threats are investigated, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Saribek Sukiasian, an owner of the SIL Concern holding company, and Artash Stepanian, his associate and director of Yerevan's Ayrarat market, were held by police for more than 72 hours on suspicion of threatening to kill a fellow entrepreneur in what Armenia's opposition described as political persecution.

Hours before the release of Sukiasian and Stepanian, the opposition Armenian National Congress described the case as "a clear example of political revenge" and asked local and international human rights groups to look into it. Armenian police, meanwhile, insist the case is of "an economic nature."

Police said in a statement that the raid on SIL's offices on February 12 was prompted by a complaint from Yerevan resident Gor Davtian, who said Saribek Sukiasian and Stepanian forced him to sign some documents relating to shares in a company called Byuregh.

The statement said Davtian had sold his 41 percent stake in Byuregh to Saribek Sukiasian's wife in October 2008, but a court annulled the deal in November 2009. It said Davtian met with Saribek Sukiasian on February 12 and informed him that he had found another buyer for the Byuregh shares. He said that Saribek Sukiasian then threatened to kill him.

The Bjni mineral water company and several other companies owned by SIL were raided by tax officials shortly after Khachatur Sukiasian voiced his support in September 2007 for former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's decision to run again for president.

SIL was later charged with large-scale tax evasion and some of the businesses -- including Bjni -- were then seized by Armenian officials, who announced in late December that a buyer had been found for the mineral water plant.

Saribek Sukiasian took over management of SIL operations after his brother went into hiding in March 2008. Khachatur Sukiasian turned himself into police in September 2009 but was released on bail three days later.

The Sukiasian family is challenging the government's confiscation of its businesses at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.