Law-enforcement authorities in Georgia have arrested a fugitive Armenian businessman at the center of a high-profile fraud case that has sparked corruption allegations against Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
According to Georgia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, the businessman, Ashot Sukiasian, was arrested at Tbilisi airport on Friday immediately after arriving from Turkey and will be extradited to Armenia in the coming days.
Sukiasian was charged by the Armenian police last June with three counts of fraud stemming from allegations made by another entrepreneur, Paylak Hayrapetian. The latter claims that the suspect misappropriated most of a $10.7 million loan which he borrowed from an Armenian commercial bank to finance a business project in Africa proposed by Sukiasian.
Het.am, an Armenian investigative publication, discovered earlier in 2013 that the embezzled sum was transferred to the offshore bank account of a Cyprus-registered company, Wlispera Holdings. It disclosed a document purportedly certifying that Wlispera is co-owned by Sukiasian, Prime Minister Sarkisian and Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan, head of the largest diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Both Sarkisian and Kchoyan strongly denied having any stakes in the company, saying that it was registered in their names in Cyprus without their knowledge. Petros Clerides, the Cyprus attorney general, ruled out the possibility of such fraudulent registration when he visited Yerevan in July, however.
Clerides discussed the matter with Aghvan Hovsepian, Armenia’s then prosecutor-general. Hovsepian asked his Greek Cypriot counterpart to help Armenian law-enforcement bodies investigate the case.
Temur Dolidze, a spokesman for Georgian prosecutors, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) at the weekend that Sukiasian was taken into custody because of being on Interpol’s most wanted list. “Sukiasian wanted to proceed to Armenia, but since Interpol had demanded his immediate arrest law-enforcement officers did just that,” he said. “Arrangements are now being made for his extradition to Armenia.”
“We don’t know what Sukiasian stands accused of,” added Dolidze. “Armenian prosecutors want to question him. We are not interested in the details because of it’s not our business.”