Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sarkisian Denies Huge Fortune

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 12/15/2006
By Ruzanna Stepanian

Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian laughed off on Friday a magazine report ranking him among Armenia's ten wealthiest men along with President Robert Kocharian and four other senior government officials.

The list appeared in the first issue of a monthly publication which claims to be the Armenian version of the U.S. magazine `Forbes.' It is topped by Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman close to President Robert Kocharian. The latter holds seventh place in the rankings, followed by Sarkisian.

The glossy magazine offered no financial estimates of their wealth. But according to the Yerevan daily `Haykakan Zhamanak,' it believes Tsarukian is worth $500 million and estimates Sarkisian's assets at $150 million.

`So little?' Sarkisian joked when asked by journalists to comment on the information.

`Am I really one of Armenia's ten richest men? How come you don't know such simple things?' he asked sarcastically.

Sarkisian is widely regarded as Armenia's second most powerful man who wields substantial influence on economic affairs and sponsors a circle of wealthy businessmen and government officials. One of them, customs chief Armen Avetisian, is the second in the published rankings.

Incidentally, the new Armenian magazine is run by a talk show host working for a television station controlled by Tsarukian. Sarkisian pounced on this fact, indicating that he believes Tsarukian himself drew up and publicized the list. He also implied that he shares the widely held belief that the ambitious tycoon grossly underreports his earnings to evade taxes.

`The list also includes some businessmen,' Sarkisian said. `Do you know that those businessmen had to disclose their income? Did they really disclose it? Please ask them, the publishers. It looks like one of the publishers himself included his name [on the list].'

`Ask him how much he declared. If his [income] declaration is credible, then so is the sum attributed to me,' he added.

The scathing comments are certain to stoke talk of an unfolding rivalry between Sarkisian's governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and Tsarukian's Prosperous Armenia, which many observers consider Kocharian's new support base. Both parties intend to make a strong showing in next year's parliamentary elections.

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