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Armenian Governor Again Accused Of Violence

Armenian politician Surik Khachatrian has a reputation for alleged violent conduct.
YEREVAN -- An Armenian businesswoman says she was assaulted by a regional governor notorious for alleged violent conduct just days after accusing him of corruption and business-related fraud, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Silva Hambardzumian said on November 15 that Surik Khachatrian of the southeastern Syunik Province punched her in the head in a Yerevan hotel late on November 14. Khachatrian denied the charge.

Hambardzumian said she had filed a formal complaint with state prosecutors.

The prosecutors' investigating arm, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), opened a criminal case on the allegations on November 15.

The SIS did that after questioning Hambardzumian in connection with corruption allegations that she had previously made against Khachatrian.

At a news conference last week, Hambardzumian, who has business interests in Syunik, claimed that a mining company owned by the governor misappropriated mining equipment worth more than 100 million drams ($263,000) from another firm belonging to her.

She also accused him of bullying an Australian firm into selling a gold mine located in the mountainous region bordering Iran.

Hambardzumian told RFE/RL that Khachatrian assaulted her as she was about to leave the lobby of the Armenia Marriott Hotel after a meeting with a foreign business partner.

She said he hit her before being pulled away by other men who accompanied him.

"I was shocked," she said. "Not because of the beating itself but the fact that a man, a state official, can beat a woman."

Hambardzumian said the incident was witnessed by Khachik Manukian, a businessman and parliament deputy. But Manukian denied that. "When I arrived there everything was over," he said. "I saw her sitting and crying."

Manukian said Khachatrian and several other men sat nearby in the meantime. "People said that some incident had occurred, that there were some cries," the pro-government lawmaker said.

A Controversial Reputation

The press office of Syunik's regional administration denied the assault allegations in a statement issued later on November 15. It accused Hambardzumian of "slander."

For its part, Marriott's security service said no violent incidents were witnessed by hotel staff or caught on surveillance cameras. "We have no cameras in that section," a security guard, who identified himself as Armen, told RFE/RL.

Hambardzumian insisted, however, that the hotel has video evidence of the alleged assault and warned the Marriott management not to withhold it.

Khachatrian, better known in Armenia by his nickname "Liska," and his extended family have held sway in the regional town of Goris and nearby villages since the early 1990s.

Independent media outlets in Yerevan have for years implicated family members in violent attacks on local business rivals as well as government critics, including a Syunik newspaper editor whose car was set on fire in 2005.

The controversial governor has always denied involvement in such incidents and denounced opposition politicians and pro-opposition media for branding him a crime figure.

Vazgen Manukian, a former opposition leader who now heads President Serzh Sarkisian's Public Council, referred to him in as an "uneducated criminal" in 2007.

In 2008, Khachatrian faced an embarrassing government inquiry into a newspaper report that accused him of beating up a teenage boy. He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

Khachatrian, who was appointed as Syunik governor by former President Robert Kocharian, managed to retain his post even after the Armenian parliament's Audit Chamber accused Syunik officials of embezzling 575 million drams ($1.5 million) worth of public funds and property later in 2008.

A member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Khachatrian was reputed to be Sarkisian's protege before the current president succeeded Kocharian in 2008.

He personally managed the parliamentary election campaign of Sarkisian's controversial brother, Aleksandr, in 2007. The latter ran for parliament unopposed in a Goris constituency.

Official results of the February 2008 disputed presidential election showed Sarkisian receiving the highest percentage of the vote count in Syunik Province.

Meanwhile, the HHK on November 15 declined to directly comment on the latest scandal involving Khachatrian.

"I am not inclined to make immediate evaluations," the party's deputy chairman, Galust Sahakian, told RFE/RL. "I would just say that the HHK believes that state officials must live more restrained lives."

Read more in Armenian here and here