YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–In a surprise move, Khachatur Sukiasian, a fugitive businessman and opposition parliamentarian, surrendered to Armenian law-enforcement authorities on Wednesday to face trial for his alleged role in last year’s post-election violence in Yerevan.
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, told RFE/RL that Sukiasian was taken into custody immediately after arriving at the headquarters of the Special Investigative Service (SIS), which has been investigating the deadly unrest.
Under Armenian law, the SIS has 72 hours to decide whether to ask a Yerevan court to reaffirm a 2008 arrest warrant for the tycoon or set him free pending trial. The law-enforcement body did not announce its further actions as of late evening.
Sukiasian was among several opposition figures who went into hiding in March 2008 to avoid prosecution in connection with vicious clashes between security forces and opposition protesters sparked by a disputed presidential election. Like three other members of Armenia’s parliament arrested in the government crackdown, he was charged with plotting to “usurp the state authority” and organizing “mass riots” that left ten people dead. State prosecutors dropped the coup charges against them in April this year.
An amnesty bill approved by the National Assembly on June 19 gave Sukiasian and other fugitive oppositionists until July 31 to turn themselves in and face trial. They will be set free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison.
Three of the fugitives surrendered to the police before the deadline. Sukiasian, by contrast, chose to stay in hiding after the SIS made clear that he would be placed under pre-trial arrest.
One of his lawyers, Artur Grigorian, gave no clear explanation as to why the prominent oppositionist, who is believed to have fled Armenia last year, turned himself in now that he no longer qualifies for amnesty. “It is not the prospect of an amnesty that could motivate him to come out,” Grigorian told RFE/RL. “He simply found it expedient to turn himself in now.”
One of Armenia’s wealthiest men, Sukiasian got in trouble with the authorities in late 2007 after publicly voicing support for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power. Many of his businesses were raided by tax authorities and fined for alleged tax evasion. One of them, the Bjni mineral water company, was effectively confiscated by the government late last year.