Thursday, May 25, 2006

Newspaper Demands Criminal Case Against Sarkisian Brother

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 05/24/2006

By Ruzanna Stepanian

An opposition-linked newspaper demanded on Wednesday that Armenian law-enforcement authorities launch criminal proceedings against a controversial brother of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian who reportedly verbally abused and threatened one of its journalists.

Taguhi Tovmasian of the `Iravunk' bi-weekly reported last week that Aleksandr `Sashik' Sarkisian clashed with several reputed crime figures during a birthday party at one of Yerevan's expensive restaurants earlier this month. Tovmasian says Sarkisian confronted her in the Armenian parliament on Tuesday to express his fury with the article and demand that she disclose its source. She says he threatened to create `problems' for her after she refused to do that.

In separate letters to the police, the Prosecutor-General's Office and the National Security Service (NSS), the `Iravunk' management said all of this is sufficient grounds for a criminal case against the influential businessman and member of Armenia's parliament. It also demanded that the law-enforcement agencies ensure the physical security of its young female employee.

`He [Sarkisian] wants to know the source? I am the source,' Hayk Babukhanian, the `Iravunk' editor-in-chief, told RFE/RL.

Tovmasian also struck a defiant note. `Sashik Sarkisian cared not so much about the veracity of the information as its source,' she said. `He was endlessly making threatens like `If you don't name the source, you'll have problems; you know who I am.''

`He didn't care whether or not what I reported was true,' she added. `This only shows that what I wrote was true. It can be said that I rubbed salt against his wounds with that article. He proved this with his brazen behavior.'

`Iravunk,' which is linked to a small opposition party called the Union for Constitutional Rights, claimed that Sarkisian went to the restaurant on May 2 to celebrate with dozens of crime figures the 50th anniversary of a prominent Russian mobster. The paper, one of the best selling in Armenia, said that at one point he started angrily quarrelling with some them over a business-related matter. It also noted that some of them were among the passengers of the Armenian airliner that crashed off the Russian Black Sea coast a few hours later.

Sarkisian, meanwhile, refused to speak to journalists and comment on the scandal as he attended a parliament session on Wednesday. His powerful and normally reserved brother Serzh is currently attending the Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy and was not available for comment.

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