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Armenian Entrepreneur Acquires Contested Company

Armenian businessman Ruben Hayrapetian
YEREVAN -- An Armenian businessman has confirmed his acquisition of a mineral-water plant whose ownership is under dispute, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ruben Hayrapetian told RFE/RL that he purchased a controlling stake in the Byuregh plant from two businessmen. One of them, Gor Davtian, is the main witness in a controversial criminal case brought against a younger brother of tycoon Khachatur Sukiasian, a long-time supporter of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Saribek Sukiasian was detained on February 12 in a police raid on the Yerevan headquarters of the Sukiasian family's SIL Concern group and held in police custody for three days. He was subsequently charged with illegally keeping Davtian in the SIL offices.

The police claim he tried to force Davtian to sign fake documents relating to Byuregh's ownership. Sukiasian strongly denies the accusation, saying that it is part of a broader government vendetta waged against his exiled brother.

The Sukiasians bought almost 86 percent of Byuregh from Davtian and the other shareholder, Robert Harutiunian, in late 2008. An Armenian court annulled the deal in November.

According to Saribek Sukiasian's lawyers, the two sides were close to signing another takeover agreement in the weeks leading up to the police inquiry. They say Davtian visited the SIL headquarters on February 12 to ask Sukiasian for protection against Hayrapetian, who allegedly used threats to warn Davtian against selling his Byuregh shares to Sukiasian.

Lusine Sahakian, one of Saribek Sukiasian's lawyers, said Hayrapetian formalized the Byuregh takeover on February 22, 10 days after Sukiasian's arrest. Hayrapetian confirmed that to RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

But Hayrapetian insisted he did not coerce either of the former owners into selling their shares to him. He also denied any part in Sukiasian's prosecution.

Hayrapetian, who is a staunch backer of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, last year acquired the Bjni mineral water plant that had been confiscated from the Sukiasian family by the Armenian government shortly after Khachatur Sukiasian pledged his support for Ter-Petrossian's candidacy in the February 2008 presidential election.