Khachatrian, who served as finance minister in former President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration, and his nephew went on trial in August one year after being arrested on corruption charges denied by them.
Law-enforcement authorities brought separate corruption charges against his two sons earlier in 2020. The latter went into hiding in May and remain on the run.
One of the sons, Gurgen Khachatrian, is the chairman of Ucom, a leading Armenian telecommunication operator controlled by the ex-minister’s extended family. In an April 2020 statement, Gurgen claimed that “high-ranking” officials have threatened to arrest him if the family refuses to sell its 77 percent stake in Ucom at a knockdown price.
Pashinian’s press secretary, Mane Gevorgian, responded by describing Gagik Khachatrian as a “corrupt” former official who had made a huge fortune while serving as finance minister from 2014-2016 and holding senior positions in the Armenian tax and customs services in the preceding decades.
“According to the Armenian government’s information, Gagik Khachatrian and his sons headed a corrupt mafia system that had long operated in Armenia, as a result of which they accumulated illegal wealth worth several hundred million dollars,” Gevorgian wrote on Facebook. “The prime minister’s position is that this loot must be returned to the state in full.”
Gevorgian said relevant authorities will allow the Khachatrians to sell their Ucom stake only if they agree to transfer all proceeds from such a deal to the government.
The Khachatrian family condemned Gevorgian’s post as slanderous and demanded an apology in a subsequent defamation suit.
The Yerevan court of first instance ruled on Tuesday that the prime minister’s spokeswoman violated the Khachatrians’ “honor and dignity” and must state on her Facebook page that Pashinian apologizes to them. It also ordered Pashinian’s office to pay 508,000 drams (about $1,000) in damages to cover the plaintiffs’ legal expenses.
Gevorgian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday that the office will appeal against the ruling.
Khachatrian was dogged by corruption allegations throughout his tenure, with some Armenian media outlets and opposition figures accusing him of using his position to become one of the country’s richest men. They pointed to his family’s extensive business interests, which include not only Ucom but also a shopping mall, a car dealership and a luxury watch store in Yerevan.
Khachatrian repeatedly denied ownership of these and other businesses, saying that they belong to his two sons and other relatives.