STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—Members of Nagorno-Karabakh’s legislature have called for an immediate release of an Armenian businessman who was arrested in Russia last week on suspicion of having ties with an organized criminal group.
All factions and groups of the republic’s 33-member National Assembly on Tuesday issued a statement in which they described Levon Hayrapetian, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh, as a great patriot who has for years implemented numerous charity projects in his homeland, contributing to its social and economic development.
“We are guided by the presumption of innocence, abstaining from political evaluations,” the Nagorno-Karabakh lawmakers emphasized. “We consider that the body conducting the investigation should urgently change the measure of restraint [used against Hayrapetian] and release him, considering Hayrapetian’s health problems.”
The Karabakh politicians expressed their conviction that “as a law-abiding citizen and a highly educated person, Levon Hayrapetian, while being out of prison, will provide comprehensive assistance to the investigation and will be useful in clarifying the issues of interest to the Russian Investigative Committee.”
They said they considered what happened to the Armenian businessman as a “regrettable misunderstanding,” expressing their conviction that Russian law-enforcement bodies will be able to carry out an “objective and comprehensive investigation that will prove Hayrapetian’s innocence.”
Nagorno-Karabakh Prime Minister Ara Harutiunian also told reporters in Stepanakert that they expect Hayrapetian to be released soon. He said that Karabakh authorities are “dealing with the case” and expressed his conviction that the businessman is not responsible for the crimes he is accused of.
Hayrapetian, 65, was arrested by Russian Federal Security Service officials on July 15. Last Thursday, a Moscow court allowed the businessman’s two-month imprisonment while investigators conduct a probe into his alleged criminal connections and involvement in some illegal financial dealings. Official charges against Hayrapetian are expected to be brought on July 24.
Hayrapetian’s case also elicited mixed reactions in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh last week. While officials in Yerevan provided terse comments and would not be drawn into speculations about any political motives behind the arrest, some opposition figures, families and friends of the businessman spoke openly about such a possibility.
Hayrapetian is considered to be one of the wealthiest Armenians in the world. He is known to have invested millions of dollars into developing Nagorno-Karabakh’s infrastructure and renovating the area’s historical-cultural monuments. His charity included a mass wedding for 700 Karabakh couples in 2008 and sponsorship of the construction of a military college in Martakert.
Some of the businessman’s friends, such as Major-General Arkady Ter-Tadevosian, one of the Armenian commanders in the 1992-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh nicknamed Komandos, have even alleged an “Azerbaijani scheme” behind the arrest, saying that its aim is to harm Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian-Russian relations.
Ter-Tadevosian, other retired military men as well as public figures staged an action in support of Hayrapetian in Yerevan on Tuesday. They said they believed that Russia’s political leadership was not connected with what they considered to be a case fabricated against the Armenian businessman by Russian and Azerbaijani special services.