Tigran Sarkisian has filed a libel suit against a businessman who has accused Armenia’s former prime minister and current ambassador to the United States of helping a former partner defraud him of millions of dollars, it emerged on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Sarkisian said he is seeking 1 million drams ($2,100) in damages for Paylak Hayrapetian’s “false claims” stemming from an alleged scam investigated by law-enforcement authorities.
As part of that investigation, another Armenian entrepreneur, Ashot Sukiasian, stands accused of having misappropriated most of a $10.7 million loan which Hayrapetian borrowed from an Armenian commercial bank in 2012. Sukiasian had pledged to invest that money in diamond mining in Sierra Leone. He never did that, according to investigators.
Sukiasian was arrested in Georgia, extradited to Armenia and charged with fraud, money laundering and tax evasion last year. The Armenian police issued an international arrest warrant for him in 2013 after a series of reports published by Hetq.am.
The investigative publication 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 as prime minister in April 2014, and Kchoyan strongly denied having any stakes in the company, saying that it was registered in their names in Cyprus without their knowledge. Sukiasian claimed to have forged their signatures shortly after his arrest. The arrested suspect is said to have testified that he thereby wanted to give the two men “surprise gifts” in appreciation of his warm rapport with them.
Despite this pre-trial testimony, Hayrapetian, a once wealthy man now living in a modest Yerevan apartment, continued to implicate the former prime minister in the fraud case. He insisted on his allegations in a March 2015 interview with another online publication.
Sarkisian’s lawyer, Aram Orbelian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the libel suit stems from that interview. Orbelian said his client wants Hayrapetian to not only pay for “the defamation” but also publicly refute the allegations.
The dispossessed businessman could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Sukiasian’s defense attorney, Yuri Khachatrian, revealed that investigators have never even questioned Sarkisian in connection with the embarrassing allegations. By contrast, he said, Archbishop Kchoyan has been interrogated by them. The lawyer refused to go into details.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Investigative Committee, a law-enforcement agency conducting the probe, would not comment on the ex-premier’s alleged role in the scam. Sona Truzian said that the committee has still not verified whether the scandalous signatures are authentic or fake. Truzian said that earlier this year it petitioned Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian to formally ask relevant authorities in Cypriot for access to the original registration certificate of the offshore firm in question.
Kostanian’s office declined to clarify whether it has actually tried to get hold of the important document.