An Armenian law-enforcement agency has launched criminal proceedings against a powerful official who resigned two weeks ago after being accused of having secret offshore accounts exposed by the Panama Papers.
Citing the leaked documents, the Hetq.am investigative publication reported last month that Mihran Poghosian, the controversial head of a government body enforcing court rulings, controls three shadowy companies registered in Panama. It said Poghosian has the exclusive right to manage Swiss bank accounts of two of those firms.
After initial a denial of the report, Poghosian announced his resignation on April 18. But he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing.
The Special Investigation Service (SIS) told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday that it has formally launched a criminal investigation in connection with the Hetq.am report.
The SIS said the probe is being conduct under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with Armenian officials’ “illegal participation in entrepreneurial activity.” Poghosian has not been charged yet.
Hetq.am and many other independent media outlets have for years accused Poghosian of having extensive business interests resulting from his government position. In particular, the 39-year-old is widely regarded as the main owner of a company enjoying a de facto monopoly on banana imports to Armenia. Poghosian has repeatedly denied owning businesses or using his position to enrich himself and his family, however.
Hayk Gevorgian, a veteran journalist with the “Haykakan Zhamanak” who has long reported on Poghosian’s alleged involvement in business, played down the significance of the SIS probe. He argued that the ex-official is not risking prosecution on charges of tax evasion carrying lengthy prison sentences.
“Instead, they have invoked another, much softer article [of the Criminal Code,]” Gevorgian said. “This suggests that the whole process will be an imitation of justice.”