Armenia’s controversial Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian, who has long been linked with lucrative businesses, on Wednesday refused to clarify whether he had helped his two sons buy a luxury villa in the United States.
An Armenian investigative publication, Hetq.am, revealed last week that the young men, Gurgen and Artyom, bought the house in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles for $11 million in 2010 and are now selling it for $35 million.
The report cast a renewed spotlight on the personal wealth of Khachatrian and his extended family that has long been scrutinized by Armenian media.
Khachatrian ran Armenia’s tax and customs services for almost eight years, until they were separated from the Finance Ministry in March. Media reports have for years accused him of using his position to become one of the country’s richest men.
The minister reputedly controls a host of lucrative businesses, including a major Internet, cable TV and mobile phone service provider, two food-importing companies, a car dealership and a luxury watch store in Yerevan. He has repeatedly denied owning them, however.
In a written reply to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Khachatrian insisted that his sons do business “on their own.” “Naturally, I am aware of some details of entrepreneurial activity by my sons,” he said. “But I think that every person must respect others’ personal life and refrain from publicizing information about the subject matter, even if it applies to his children.”
Khachatrian declined to comment on the origin of his sons’ wealth or explain whether he has helped them make their fortunes in any way.
The Armenian government, which pledged recently to toughen its declared fight against corruption, gave no indications that it will investigate the Hetq.am report. “I will express my opinion after familiarizing myself with that report,” Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian said earlier this week.
Such an investigation was demanded by the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian branch of the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International. The ACC’s deputy director, Sona Ayvazian, said the authorities must tell the public whether there is any connection between Khachatrian’s tenure and his sons’ business assets and properties.
Ayvazian said the inquiries must be separately conducted by the oversight services of Abrahamian and President Serzh Sarkisian as well as Armenia’s Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials.
The oversight services said they have no legal power to look into the personal assets of Khachatrian’s relatives, while the state commission, which is tasked with scrutinizing income declarations filed by senior Armenian officials, declined to comment on Wednesday.
The ACC already asked the commission in 2013 to determine whether Khachatrian has abused his position to enrich himself. The commission cleared him of any wrongdoing, saying that he does not formally own any firms.