Armenia’s ambassador to Ukraine has come under fire from a Ukrainian media outlet after it emerged that he lives in a luxury house in Kiev belonging to a fugitive crony of Viktor Yanukovich, the country’s deposed former president.
Viktor Sivets, the former head of Ukraine’s state forestry agency, was among senior Ukrainian officials who fled to Russia in early 2014 after Yanukovich was swept from power by a popular uprising known as “Euromaidan.” Ukrainian law-enforcement authorities subsequently named him as a suspect in a criminal investigation into alleged corruption within the agency. He reportedly has millions of dollars worth of assets in Ukraine registered in his wife Marina Zhuravlyova’s name.
The Ukrainian investigative publication CorruptUA.org revealed this week that one of those properties, a $2.4 million villa in Kiev, is rented by the Armenian Ambassador Andranik Manukian and serves as his official residence. It said the diplomatic status of the property means that it cannot be confiscated or even searched by the authorities. It claimed that Zhuravlyova stays in that house when she periodically travels from Moscow to Kiev.
Manukian on Friday flatly denied helping Sivets secure the house or shielding his wife from prosecution. He claimed that he was unaware of Sivets’s connection with the property when he leased it in September 2013, shortly before the onset of “Euromaidan” protests in the Ukrainian capital.
“I signed the lease agreement with Marina Zhuravlyova, the house owner,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “At that time, Yanukovich was in power and nobody would predict that he will run away and betray this country.”
“If the Ukrainian authorities have a problem with those persons and think that I placed the house under diplomatic cover, then I will readily vacate it,” he said. “Nobody has ever asked me why I live there.”
Manukian, who has extensive business interests in and outside Armenia, also insisted that he pays for the expensive property out of his own pocket, rather than with funds provided by the Armenian Foreign Ministry.