Mikael Minasian, former President Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law and reputed confidant, is a suspect in an ongoing criminal investigation into a 2010 privatization deal which Armenian prosecutors say cost the state millions of dollars in losses.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian indicated on Monday that Minasian might be indicted in connection with the sale of “one of Armenia’s strategic facilities” located in the northern Lori province. Pashinian said he should “return to Armenia and answer questions” from investigators. He declined to give any details of the investigation.
Sources told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday that the facility in question is DzoraHEK, a medium-sized hydroelectric plant built in Soviet times. It was handed over to the Armenian Defense Ministry in 2001, one year after Sarkisian was appointed as defense minister.
In 2010, then President Sarkisian’s government decided to sell the plant to a private company, Dzoraget Hydro, for 3.6 billion drams ($7.5 million). Some Armenian media outlets, including Pashinian’s “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, suggested at the time that the company belongs to Minasian.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General announced in May that a police inquiry has found that the sell-off price was set well below DzoraHEK’s market value estimated by a government property agency at around 8 billion drams ($16.8 million). It said that following the privatization public utility regulators sharply raised the price of electricity produced at the plant to widen its profit margins.
DzoraHEK’s new private owner earned an equivalent of over $29 million in revenues from 2011-2018, the law-enforcement agency said in a statement. The plant’s privatization thus “inflicted substantial damage on the state’s legitimate interests,” it said.
The prosecutors added that they have assigned Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) to continue the inquiry.
“The investigation into the case is in progress and I can’t give other details now in the interests of the investigation,” an SIS spokeswoman, Marina Ohanjanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. She would not say whether anyone has been charged in connection with the 2010 deal.
Lori’s governor, Andrei Ghukasian, described the hydroelectric facility’s privatization as a “serious crime” that “caused the state a great deal of damage.” But he said he is not familiar with details of the ongoing probe.
Minasian has not yet publicly commented on the probe or his alleged involvement in the deal. It is not clear where he lives at present.
Minasian served as Armenia’s ambassador to the Vatican from 2013 to 2018. He was sacked last November six months after the Pashinian-led “Velvet Revolution” toppled Sarkisian.
The 41-year-old enjoyed considerable political and economic influence in the country throughout Sarkisian’s decade-long rule. He is also thought to have developed extensive business interests in various sectors of the Armenian economy.
“I don’t want to make statements that could create problems for the [DzoraHEK] investigation, but Mikael Minasian was and still is the owner of many businesses in Armenia,” Pashinian told a news conference on Monday. “It’s just that those assets were registered in the name of a woman whose name won’t tell you anything.”
Pashinian claimed that Minasian had abused “state levers” to enrich himself. The prime minister complained that the current Armenian authorities have so far lacked “legal grounds” to seize his dubiously acquired assets.
Minasian’s father Ara is a renowned doctor who ran a state hospital in Yerevan until the Armenian Health Ministry accused him of embezzlement in July 2018. Ara Minasian strongly denied the allegations. He apparently fled Armenia before being formally charged in November 2018.