An Armenian businessman was hospitalized over the weekend after being beaten up in an attack he blamed on Ruben Hayrapetian, the wealthy and well-connected head of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA).
The allegation is likely to rekindle controversy over Hayrapetian, three years after guards at a restaurant owned by his family beat a man to death -- an attack which prompted accusations that tycoons with ties to President Serzh Sarkisian's government enjoy impunity.
Arsen Avetisian, the majority shareholder in an airline that suspended operations last year, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on August 17 that he was assaulted during a meeting with Hayrapetian at the FFA Football Academy two days earlier.
"Hayrapetian grabbed my hand, and when I tried to free my hand everybody else started hitting me," Avetisian said, speaking from his bed at a Yerevan hospital where he is recovering from a broken nose and other serious injuries. "I didn’t see who was hitting me as I lay on the ground."
"They then took me to another place. Ruben Hayrapetian was there and he continued to talk to me," he said.
Avetisian, who manages private carrier Air Armenia, declined to discuss what might have prompted the attack. He said he would provide more information "in the coming days."
Air Armenia is the former Soviet republic's largest airline, but it suspended flights late last year and is reportedly saddled with debt.
Avetisian’s, wife, Izabella Melkumian, published an open letter to President Serzh Sarkisian alleging that Hayrapetian and his bodyguards kidnapped her husband after the beating.
She claimed they demanded he sign a statement certifying that he owes Hayrapetian a substantial amount of money.
"I appealed to law-enforcement bodies but am worried about the safety of my husband and other members of our family," Melkumian said in the letter, entreating Sarkisian to ensure the family is protected by the state.
The Armenian police said that they were investigating the allegations. A police spokesperson refused to divulge any details of that inquiry.
News.am reported that Hayrapetian and two of his bodyguards were questioned by police investigators, and said the tycoon refused to comment when contacted by the online publication. Neither Hayrapetian nor his aides answered phone calls from RFE/RL's Armenian service.
Air Armenia reportedly has outstanding debts to at least one other airline and several banks.
The attack on Avetisian came a day after a Ukrainian investment fund, which recently bought a 49 percent stake in Air Armenia, announced that it has invested over $68 million in the troubled airline.
Hayrapetian was the target of a public outcry after several Armenian Army medics were attacked in June 2012 at Harsnakar, a Yerevan restaurant owned by Hayrapetian’s family. One of the medics -- Vahe Avetian, a 35-year-old father of three -- died, and two others were seriously injured after arguing with burly men working at the restaurant.
Avetian's death shocked the nation and sparked a series of angry street protests by hundreds of civic activists who saw the incident as a manifestation of impunity enjoyed by government-linked tycoons.
Zhanna Aleksanian, a veteran human rights activist and writer, said that Avetisian’s beating shows that the problem persists.
"The oligarchs who are members of [President] Serzh Sarkisian’s inner circle enjoy impunity,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “This is why such incidents recur. Only Serzh Sarkisian can tell how long this will continue.”
The outcry in 2012 prompted Hayrapetian to resign from the Armenian parliament and apologize to Avetian’s family. But he stayed on as chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA), denying any involvement in the beating, and he is a senior member of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia.
In March 2014, six men believed to be Hayrapetian’s bodyguards were convicted of killing Avetian and sentenced to 12 years prison. An appeals court later upheld the verdict.
Hayrapetian was accused in November 2012 of beating up a doctor working for FC Pyunik, a soccer club controlled by him, and in 2014 he allegedly verbally and physically abused a Pyunik player during a match. Hayrapetian denied those allegations through the FFA’s press service.