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Former Official Skips Interrogation In Panama Papers Probe


Armenia - Parliament deputy Mihran Poghosian at a session of the National Assembly in Yerevan, 19 May 2017

A former senior official and lawmaker invited by the Special Investigation Service (SIS) for questioning as part of a reopened investigation into his alleged secret offshore accounts exposed by the Panama Papers has skipped the interrogation, a spokesperson said on Friday.

Marina Ohanjanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Mihran Poghosian did not appear for the planned interrogation, explaining that he is currently abroad.

Poghosian asked the investigators to question him in a video conference, but the SIS refused to do so “since no such procedure is envisaged by law”, the spokeswoman said.

“The body conducting the investigation again invited Poghosian for questioning, suggesting that he indicate the date of his return to Armenia,” Ohanjanian added.

The SIS representative reported no other details related to the case.

Citing the leaked Panama Papers documents, the Hetq.am investigative publication reported in April 2016 that Poghosian, the then head of an Armenian state body enforcing court rulings, controls three shadowy companies registered in Panama. It said Poghosian had the exclusive right to manage Swiss bank accounts of two of those firms.

After initially denying the report, Poghosian announced his resignation later that month. But he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing.

The SIS launched a criminal investigation in connection with the Hetq.am report shortly after Poghosian’s resignation. It closed the criminal case in January 2017, saying that it found no evidence of Poghosian’s involvement in “illegal entrepreneurial activity.”

Poghosian had close ties to then President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). He was elected to the former Armenian parliament on the HHK ticket in April 2017.

Armenian media outlets had for years accused Poghosian of having extensive business interests. In particular, the 42-year-old was widely regarded as the main owner of Katrin Group, a company that enjoyed a de facto monopoly on banana imports to Armenia until last year’s “velvet revolution” that toppled Sarkisian. He always denied owning any lucrative businesses.

Shortly after the revolution the State Revenue Committee (SRC) launched a tax evasion inquiry into Katrin Group and three other firms linked to it. They promptly admitted failing to pay a total of 600 million drams ($1.2 million) in taxes, leading the SRC to stop the criminal proceedings.

The SRC reopened the probe a few weeks later, however, saying that it has discovered evidence of greater tax evasion on the part of the four business entities.

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