A businessman arrested on charges of defrauding a partner insisted through a lawyer on Monday that former Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was not involved in the alleged scam despite what some media present as evidence to the contrary.
Ashot Sukiasian was extradited from Georgia to Armenia last month to face three counts of fraud and money laundering that carry up to 12 years’ imprisonment. His former partner, Paylak Hayrapetian, claims that Sukiasian misappropriated most of a $10.7 million loan which he borrowed from an Armenian commercial bank. The money was supposed to be invested in diamond mining in Sierra Leone.
The Armenian police issued an international arrest warrant for Sukiasian last year after a series of reports that appeared on Het.am, an investigative publication. Hetq.am discovered that Hayrapetian’s money was transferred to the offshore bank accounts of several Cyprus-registered companies. It disclosed a document purportedly certifying that one of those firms, Wlispera Holdings, is co-owned by Sukiasian, then Prime Minister Sarkisian and Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Both Sarkisian, who resigned last April, and Kchoyan strongly denied having any stakes in the company, saying that it was registered in their names in Cyprus without their knowledge. According to Yuri Khachatrian, Sukiasian’s lawyer, the arrested businessman has echoed their assurances in his pre-trial testimony.
“He has stated and made clear in his testimony that those two individuals have nothing to do with the company opened by him,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said his client forged their signatures in the registration documents. Sukiasian thus wanted to give Sarkisian and Kchoyan “surprise gifts” in appreciation of his warm rapport with them, added the lawyer.
This explanation is unlikely to convince media outlets as well as opposition politicians that have accused Sarkisian of complicity in the large-scale fraud. Hayrapetian too has repeatedly alleged that the ex-premier, who was appointed as Armenia’s ambassador to the United States late last month, helped to dispossess him.
Khachatrian said that Sukiasian has pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges because he himself is a victim of fraud. He claimed that his client lost control over a diamond mine in Sierra Leone because he was cheated by a Belarusian partner. The lawyer also dismissed Hayrapetian’s complaints, saying that the latter was always aware that doing business in the war-ravaged African state is very risky.