Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian faced an angry reaction from the government on Thursday after effectively alleging during a visit to Brussels that his country is run by corrupt individuals.
Tsarukian dealt what may have been a further blow to his relationship with President Serzh Sarkisian during a meeting on Wednesday with Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca, a deputy speaker of the European Parliament.
A BHK statement said they discussed the political and socioeconomic situation in Armenia. “During the unconstrained conversation, Gagik Tsarukian expressed a view that it is impossible to fight against corruption in the country if that fight is led by the main corrupt individuals,” it said without giving further details.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denounced the BHK statement as “shameful.” He said the BHK, which was part of the Armenian government until last June, itself has a poor reputation among European Union officials and that the HHK has avoided publicizing that for ethical reasons.
“We are not saying that in Europe, according to written opinions of our European partners, the Prosperous Armenia Party is regarded as an artificial force,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We are not saying that the Prosperous Armenia Party, again according to European deputies, has achieved some success as a result of populist policies.
“We are not saying that according to some European deputies, the Prosperous Armenia Party leader has quite scant knowledge of international politics and current political affairs in general.”
Tsarukian and several senior BHK figures accompanying him left for Brussels earlier this weeks for talks with EU officials and lawmakers amid growing expectations that he will be Sarkisian’s main challenger in next February’s presidential election. He has not announced his participation in the vote yet.
Tsarukian’s rapport with the Armenian ruling party has worsened dramatically over the past year because of his reluctance to back the incumbent president’s reelection bid. The BHK leader, who is one of Armenia’s wealthiest men, pulled his influential party out of Sarkisian’s governing coalition after the May 2012 parliamentary elections.
The BHK statement said the presidential ballot was on the agenda of his meetings with Vidal-Quadras and other EU parliamentarians. It quoted Vidal-Quadras as saying that Tsarukian would make a “superb candidate” because of his “human and optimistic traits.”
Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, one of the senior BHK members accompanying the tycoon, insisted late on Wednesday that the Brussels visit is not connected with the approaching election. He said European officials are raising the matter because “they know that Prosperous Armenia is a quite strong party.”
Oskanian also suggested that Tsarukian’s long-awaited decision on whether he will run for president will be announced next week. “This visit will in no way determine the essence of that announcement,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Tsarukian has not alleged high-level government corruption until now. Asked why he decided to make such allegations at this juncture, Lyova Khachatrian, a BHK deputy, said, “Maybe he has had enough. Maybe he hoped that people will correct themselves.”
The burly tycoon made much of his fortune during the 1998-2008 tenure of President Robert Kocharian, with whom he is believed to maintain a warm rapport. Opposition politicians and media have long accused him of using his government connections to evade taxes, a charge he has always denied.