The director of Armenia’s main maternity hospital and two other officials were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of forcing young women to abandon their babies who were subsequently adopted by foreigners paying bribes.
The Investigative Committee made the arrests as part of a criminal investigation launched by another law-enforcement agency, the National Security Service (NSS), earlier this year.
In a November 14 statement, the NSS claimed to have found evidence of three dozen Armenian children have been illegally adopted by Italian nationals. In particular, it said, in 2016-2018 several officials used threats, blackmail and lies to convince over a dozen pregnant (and presumably unmarried) women to abandon their expected children.
According to the statement, immediately after their birth the children were taken to state-run orphanages whose senior employees later arranged their adoption by foreigners through forgery of their medical records and other violations of adoption rules set by the state. The NSS said that members of the crime ring made sure that Armenian citizens could not adopt the babies.
The arrested suspects are Razmik Abrahamian, the director of the Republican Maternity Hospital, his deputy Arshak Jerjerian and Liana Karapetian, the director of a Yerevan orphanage. The Investigative Committee said that they colluded with two other individuals for personal gain but did not give any details.
All three suspects were interrogated later on Wednesday. It was not clear whether any of them admitted involvement in the alleged child trafficking.
A spokeswoman for the Yerevan-based hospital, Vartuhi Simonian, declined to comment on its long-serving director’s arrest. At the same time Simonian categorically denied the medical institution’s involvement in child adoptions in Armenia.
Abrahamian, 76, was already charged in April this year with giving a bribe to then Deputy Health Minister Arsen Davtian. Unlike Davtian, who was reportedly caught red-handed in his office, the veteran doctor was not arrested at the time.
According to government data, a total of 54 Armenian children were adopted by foreign nationals, most of them Italians and Americans, from 2016-2018.
The integrity of foreign adoptions in Armenia has long been in serious doubt. A 2011 news report by RFE/RL’s Armenian service suggested that U.S. adoption agencies continue to make hefty informal payments to Armenian officials dealing with adoptions. It cited a sample contract signed by one such agency with Americans wishing to adopt Armenian or Georgian children.
The contract, offered to a potential client in the United States in 2007, explained that almost $5,000 of more than $30,000 charged by the agency for every adoption would be spent on “gifts to foreign service providers and government functionaries performing ministerial tasks as an offer of thanks for prompt service.” It claimed that such gifts are “customary” in Armenia and Georgia and do not violate U.S. law.
“Gifts and gratuities” were also a separate spending category in a sample agreement that was offered by another American adoption agency.