The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on Wednesday urged media to respect “the presumption of innocence” of a Russian businessman of Armenian descent blacklisted by the United States for his alleged ties to an organized-crime syndicate.
The controversial businessman, Ruben Tatulian, is one of 10 Russian nationals on whom the U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions late last week. The department's Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) accused them of involvement in “serious transnational criminal activities.”
Tatulian holds an Armenian diplomatic passport. He was also one of three dozen Russian-Armenian entrepreneurs who pledged last January to support Prime Minister Karen Karapetian with large-scale investments in Armenia’s economy. Tatulian’s inclusion on the U.S. blacklist therefore raised questions about his ties to the Armenian government.
“Democracy requires respect for the presumption of innocence,” the HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told reporters, commenting on the U.S. sanctions against Tatulian. “If a person has not been convicted by a judicial body then that person cannot be considered a criminal. I’m neither defending nor not defending him. I’m just noting a fact.”
Asked whether the very fact of U.S. accusations levelled against Tatulian is not significant in itself, Sharmazanov said: “This is beyond the scope of my responsibilities.”
The official also would not say whether the authorities in Yerevan would now welcome any investments from Tatulian. “Financial investments in Armenia and their sources must be legal,” he said. “But in order to judge whether they are legal or not you must not hand down a [guilty] verdict against any citizen as long as there is no official decision.”
According to media reports, Tatulian is based in the Black Sea city of Sochi and has extensive business interests as well as strong government connections in southern Russia. An OFAC statement released on December 22 described him as a regional “overseer” of the criminal group in question. The Russian-Armenian tycoon has not yet publicly reacted to the U.S. accusations.