YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Khachatur Sukiasian, a wealthy businessman supporting the Armenian opposition, was released from pre-trial detention late on Friday three days after surrendering to law-enforcement authorities to face accusations stemming from last year’s deadly post-election clashes in Yerevan.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL that he was set free after signing a pledge not to leave Yerevan until his planned trial on charges of organizing the March 1, 2008 “mass disturbances” along with other opposition figures. She said the Special Investigative Service (SIS), the law-enforcement body investigating the unrest, also took into account the fact that Sukiasian turned himself in “voluntarily.”
The tycoon, who strongly supported former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election, had spent the previous 18 months in hiding, most probably outside Armenia, to avoid prosecution on what he considers trumped-up and politically motivated accusations. He was taken to a maximum security prison in central Yerevan shortly after the surrender.
The SIS said on Wednesday that it will ask a Yerevan court to allow it keep Sukiasian under pre-trial arrest just as it did in the case of Nikol Pashinian, another prominent opposition figure who went into hiding following the March 2008 unrest.
An amnesty bill approved by the National Assembly on June 19 gave the fugitive oppositionists until July 31 to turn themselves in and face trial. Pashinian and two other Ter-Petrosian loyalists chose to come out of hiding before the expiry of the deadline. Under the terms of the pardon, they will walk free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment.
Sukiasian, on the other hand, decided not to seek amnesty after the SIS refused to guarantee his liberty.