The arrest of a wealthy Russia-based Armenian businessman in Moscow over alleged criminal connections has elicited a strong reaction from his family and friends in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, with some alleging an ‘Azerbaijani scheme’ behind the development.
Levon Hayrapetian, 65, was remanded into custody for two months by a Moscow court on the application of Russian investigators looking into the businessman’s alleged ties with a notorious Russian gang and possible involvement in ‘illegal financial machinations’.
Hayrapetian was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor of the Soviet KGB, at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport on July 15 as he was reportedly returning from Monaco.
Hayrapetian, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh, is known for his large business investments and charity projects in the self-proclaimed republic, including the sponsorship of a mass wedding for 700 couples there in 2008.
He has also been seen as a leading lobbyist of Armenian issues abroad. In particular, he is known to have advocated the international recognition of the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide and the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state.
Hayrapetian’s brother Vladimir, who runs some of his businesses in Nagorno-Karabakh, described his arrest as a ‘political vendetta’. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the charges brought against Hayrapetian by Russian investigators are false.
“My brother went into oil business in order to help Karabakh and only for that purpose… He [Levon Hayrapetian] says he wants to die a poor man and that he must give whatever he owns to his homeland,” Vladimir Hayrapetian said.
Earlier, Nagorno-Karabakh war hero Arkady Ter-Tadevosian, who is known as Hayrapetian’s close friend, also described the businessman’s detention as ‘politically motivated’, alleging the Russian authorities’ corrupt dealings with Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijan is the only state in the world that is unhappy with Levon Hayrapetian’s activities. Its leaders are furiously envious of the Armenian states’ achievements,” General Ter-Tedevosian said in a statement, asserting that Hayrapetian’s detention was an ‘Azerbaijani scheme.’
Hayrapetian’s long-term investments in Nagorno-Karabakh have also included the building and sponsorship of military academies training officers for the unrecognized republic’s defense army.
“I have no doubts that the action was aimed at overshadowing Armenian-Russian friendship, the wisdom of Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union and, to some extent, affecting the strengthening of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armed Forces,” Ter-Tadevosian continued. “Regrettably, some Russian structures, including the Federal Security Service, still have in their ranks dishonest people, who are ready to betray their own country’s interests for 30 silver pieces. And I am sure no one doubts that it is in Russia’s interest to have strong Armenian states located between a NATO member-state and Russia.”
The general said he was sure that Armenians in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh as well as in Russia would not remain indifferent to Hayrapetian’s fate.
David Babayan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, said that Hayrapetian’s arrest is ‘an occasion for celebration’ in Azerbaijan where, according to him, they celebrate “damage caused to any Armenian, let alone a figure like Hayrapetian”. The official said that time will show whether Azerbaijan used its petrodollars and relations with Russia to ‘arrange’ the arrest of one of the largest investors in Nagorno-Karabakh’s economy.