Armenia’s ambassador to Germany Ashot Smbatian has categorically denied any ties to local Armenian criminal groups after an investigation conducted by two leading German media made the allegation, citing classified police reports.
According to a joint investigation carried out by Der Spiegel and the MDR TV and Radio Company, for three years, the Federal Criminal Police Office, together with the land police departments, has been conducting a classified operation to search for and detain representatives of the Armenian mafia. The Federal Intelligence Service and Europol have helped the criminal investigation officers of Germany in the investigation.
However, the Federal Criminal Police Office recommended that investigators do not accept the assistance of the diplomatic mission of Armenia in Germany, since the investigators do not rule out links between so-called ‘thieves in law’ and representatives of the state structures of Armenia.
The authors of the investigative report also note that as a result of the large-scale operation codenamed FATIL (Fight Against Thieves in Law) that involved a number of special services, the law-enforcement authorities established that Armenian mafia groups have developed “deep roots” and created a “strong network” in Germany, but the suspects could not be detained due to insufficient evidence.
The existence of the Armenian mafia in Germany began to be discussed in 2014 after a shootout between two criminal clans in July 2014 in the city of Erfurt, Thuringia, that left two ethnic Armenian men wounded. However, due to lack of evidence, the results of the investigations have not yet led to accusations and criminal cases.
The German law-enforcement authorities initiated 14 criminal proceedings against more than four dozen people, with charges including money laundering.
The Erfurt shootout was followed by an attack on a restaurant owned by an ethnic Armenian.
According to media publications, the names of well-known Armenian boxers, Arthur Abraham and Karo Murat, who live in Germany, were also circulated in the investigation. However, the law-enforcement authorities did not succeed in finding solid evidence against them and other suspects.
A strictly confidential report drawn up at the end of the investigation, nevertheless, stated that “in Germany there is, indeed, an Armenian mafia which, along with other criminal groups in the Russian-Eurasian region, possesses substantial financial resources, threatening the rule of law in the country.”
The leading German media outlets note that last March Armenian Ambassador to Germany Smbatian met with the chief of the Thuringia District Police Office and offered official Yerevan’s assistance in detecting Armenian criminal groups. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, however, advised colleagues in a secret report against cooperating with Armenian authorities, citing “possible fusion” between Armenian authorities and mafia groups, according to Der Spiegel.
According to the media, in particular, the law-enforcement authorities in Germany suspected that the ambassador, who was appointed in 2015 by the decree of the then Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, had links with criminal groups, but no evidence supporting these suspicions was found.
Earlier, in 2008, when Smbatian was an embassy official, the Federal Intelligence Service suspected him of international smuggling, but no evidence was found in that case either, and the investigation was suspended.
Smbatian, who last week was appointed also to the post of Armenia’s ambassador to Liechtenstein, combining these new duties with his current diplomatic post, categorically denies the latest allegations, describing them as absurd.
The German Public Television and Radio Company has produced an extensive film about the investigation and its revelations, which it plans to broadcast on Tuesday.
In response to a request from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday said it was in touch with the German authorities to clarify the credibility of the reports published by the media.
“Taking into account the delicate nature of the issue and its potential impact on the work of our diplomatic mission, at this point we do not find it appropriate to give an additional comment. We will provide additional information based on the results,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalian said.