By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s highest court on Friday declared illegal state prosecutors’ refusal to launch criminal proceedings against a local man who allegedly defrauded a U.S. philanthropist of Armenian descent and his wife.
The Office of Prosecutor-General suffered a rare judicial setback when the Armenian Court of Appeals upheld two lower court rulings ordering it to renew a criminal investigation into the alleged misappropriation of real property claimed by George Najarian. The law-enforcement agency appealed both rulings but will now have to comply with them.
Najarian’s wife Carolann welcomed the latest verdict as a “great victory for the judicial system of Armenia.” “I was ready to leave Armenia and never return,” she told a news conference. “However, after considering that for some time as a real possibility, I realized that my love of Armenia and Armenia’s people had to be separated from the criminal who was trying to rob us of our investment.”
The Najarians, who have engaged in extensive charitable work in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh for the past 15 years, have been pushing for a fraud case against their former Yerevan-based representative, Grigor Igitian. The latter is the formal owner of a photo shop and two buildings currently constructed in downtown Yerevan.
The Najarians insists that in reality the lucrative property belongs to them and that they registered it in Igitian's name in 1996 because Armenian law at the time did not allow foreigners to own land in the country. They claim to have invested $500,000 in the assets.
Igitian, however, says he himself raised most of the money working as an English-language interpreter and receiving a large inheritance several years ago. The prosecutors backed his claims when then they closed the inquiry last October. The three court rulings have dealt a blow to the credibility of their arguments, however.
One of Najarian’s attorneys, Ashot Poghosian, accused the prosecutors in his earlier courts remarks of covering up the “large-scale fraud” and intimidating key witnesses. “We had to cope with pressure [from prosecutors],” he repeated on Friday.
The other Najarian lawyer, Hrair Ghukasian, said he hopes the prosecutors will now conduct a new inquiry in earnest. He said they have all the evidence to indict Igitian and hand the property to the Diasporan couple.
The prosecutors have so far declined to publicly comment on the case. “We had information that these investigators were following orders from persons within the government who stand to benefit from expropriating these properties from us,” the Najarians wrote in an article published by Armenian-American newspapers last November.
Carolann Najarian did not personally implicate anyone in the alleged cover-up on Friday, saying only that “it must be somebody very powerful because evidence in this case has been very clear.”
(RFE/RL photo: Poghosian and Najarian speaking at the news conference.)