George and Carolann Najarian
George and Carolann Najarian live in Boston, Mass. They have been doing humanitarian work in Armenia since independence. Carolann wrote a book about her experiences named "A Call From Home". They made an investment in Armenia in which their local partner misused his power-of-attorney to steal from them. The case was going poorly until widespread publicity turned things around.
Neither Courts nor Officials Care That We Were Defrauded in Armenia
By K. George Najarian and Carolann S. Najarian, M.D.
We would like to relate a sad, but true account of what we have experienced within Armenia's legal system over this past year.
Let us first introduce ourselves: our humanitarian efforts in Armenia and Artsakh have spanned nearly 16 years. Our projects began after the earthquake and during the Artsakh liberation war and continue through today, with more than 50 trips to Armenia, the delivery of millions of dollars of medical supplies to both regions; the establishment of the Primary Care Center in Gyumri (1994) and the Arpen Center for Expectant Mothers in Artsakh (1995); hospital renovations; and many other efforts, including the rebuilding of Tsitsernavank, the 4th c. basilica in Kashatagh (Lachine corridor), assistance to villagers, invalids, veterans, orphans, and schools. Our work has been carried out through the Armenian Health Alliance, Inc. and its supporters as well as through our own private funds. In response to the Armenian government's pleas to the Diaspora to invest in Armenia, George undertook a project with a young man whom he met after the earthquake and with whom he subsequently became a friend. (We even brought him to Boston to have surgical correction of his infertility for which we paid; he now has two children, thanks to us!)
In 1996, after a year of prodding George to finance a business venture, they opened a photo shop as partners - he did the work and George paid for everything. He also introduced George to various people with other business propositions. One introduction led to our purchase of two parcels of land in the Ethnographic Center at Tzorakugh with spectacular views of Ararat. Throughout this time this 'friend' presented himself to us as an honest person, thankful for the assistance we had given to him and wanting to help George in whatever way he could.
This 'friend' was George's representative, not partner, in the development of these two parcels of land. Thus, he had Power of Attorney to represent George in his absence. However, he used this Power of Attorney to fraudulently privatize in his name these lands and our two newly constructed buildings, in effect expropriating our substantial investment. When we understood what he had done, with the hope of avoiding a legal battle, we tried to negotiate with him for the return of the properties. This failed, despite offers of significant sums of money. Without any other recourse open to us and based on the advice of legal experts in Armenia, we filed a criminal case against him, first with the Yerevan City Prosecutor's Office (September, 2003) and later with the Prosecutor General of Armenia's office (March, 2004).
We had assumed the facts in the case were obvious -- "open and shut"-- given the evidence of scores of witnesses, bank documents, receipts, etc. We had not anticipated that our 'friend' would enlist the help of well-connected persons in the government who could influence the case through bribes and whatever other means available to them, including intimidating witnesses and threatening lives. In December, 2003, after a long but superficial investigation, the Yerevan City Prosecutor's Office dismissed the case and referred us to civil court. (We suspected the prosecutor had been bribed but could not prove it.) On appeal, the case was reopened at the Prosecutor General level. This time prosecutors agreed we were the victims of fraud. They also found that the 'friend' was guilty of tax evasion. Attempts were again made to hijack the case through dismissal at this point but failed. While the Yerevan City Prosecutor who previously dismissed the case admitted during a meeting at the General Prosecutor's Office, in George's presence, that he made a mistake by dismissing the case, the current prosecutors said that the evidence was too powerful to dismiss, and sent the case to the next phase within the criminal process -- that of acquiring evidence for the trial.
Two investigators were assigned the task of preparing the evidence for trial: witnesses were repeatedly called and subjected to hours of interrogation; George returned to Armenia again to testify - this time for more than 40 hours; and, documents were requested and provided by us for a third time. Again, the investigation dragged on for months and despite mountains of evidence supporting our claims, and little on the other side supporting his claim of ownership, the two investigators doing the work dismissed the case! Their decision, a shabby, crude, and even absurd document completely ignored or marginalized important evidence supporting our claims and falsified facts --openly. We were again referred to civil court. We had information that these investigators were following orders from persons within the government who stand to benefit from expropriating these properties from us.
Prominent legal minds in Armenia, including experts within the government, have advised us that this is a criminal case of fraud punishable under Armenian law. Similar cases, with less evidence, have been fully prosecuted by the Prosecutor General's Office. The attempt to move us into civil court is an attempt to kill the case completely. Under Armenian law, we have no civil case because there is no partnership agreement between the parties - we were not partners with this 'friend.'
It pains us to tell you we did not find an objective, fair justice system in Armenia, but instead we have seen the inside of a system wrought with deceit and corruption that crushes even their own when they try to resist. During this past year, in addition to our direct appeals, others, including a high ranking member of the Armenian government, have appealed repeatedly for a fair and objective hearing of our case to persons within the judicial system and to President Kocharian himself.
The US Embassy is fully aware of the circumstances of our case as are a number of US congressmen who have written to the Armenian ambassador in Washington expressing concern over the conduct of our case - judicial processes must be open and fair otherwise investors will be leery of undertaking investment risk in Armenia.
It is impossible to recount all that we have been through this past year. It has been an emotional roller coaster as we faced the fact that persons within this government would participate in this humiliating and base fraud against us. It appears due process of law and the protection of rights and investments are still fragile concepts for the government of Armenia. As we understand other Diasporans have encountered similar problems and have been treated in this same manner. We hope with our case being made public there will be a willingness to discuss these critical issues, and the Armenian government will take the necessary steps to clean up corruption: the judiciary should not exist to guarantee people in power wealth. It is no way to build a country!
Writing about our ordeal is a very painful step taken reluctantly after one year of struggling to get a fair hearing of our case. Although we are still in the appeal process, we understand that our property - including the place where we anticipated living out our retirement years - has been taken from us. What you are not seeing, though, are the tears we have shed over knowing that we may never be able to return to Armenia, to live and continue our work, and knowing not only has our property been expropriated, but we as people who have loved and worked for the good of Armenia and its people have been so dishonestly treated.
The pain goes very deep.
BAD BUSINESS: COURT RULES THAT CRIMINAL CHARGES ARE JUSTIFIED IN NAJARIAN CLAIM
By Zhanna Alexanyan
An Armenian higher court has upheld a previous court's decision that criminal charges should be pursued in the case of a Diaspora couple's two-year legal battle against a former Yerevan associate.
Last week, the Cassation Court for Criminal and Military Cases ruled that an investigation should continue into whether local businessman Grigor Igityan is guilty of defrauding well-known American-Armenian philanthropist George Najarian, of Boston.
The court decision means that the Prosecutor General's Office must re-open its investigation into whether Igityan illegally took possession of property he had purchased on behalf of Najarian. Igityan has maintained that he had rightful ownership and that assuming the property was recompense for a loan that he had made to Najarian.
The Prosecutor General had appealed a lower court ruling, claiming that there was no grounds for pursuing prosecution against Igityan. Without criminal charges, the Najarians might have been able to reclaim the property, but Igityan would not face punishment.
In addition to a partnership with Igityan in a photo shop, Najarian invested in two properties in the Yerevan district of Dzoragyugh. At stake is an investment of $500,000.
If Igityan is found guilty of embezzlement and fraud, he could face up to eight years in prison.
Igityan, who Carolann Najarian describes as a man who, 10 years ago was wearing clothes handed down from her husband, has maintained that he purchased the disputed property with money his wife gained from inheritance.
Carolann Najarian said at a press conference that Igityan, who had been the couple's interpreter, early on had asked the Najarians to buy him a car and a house - which they refused. She also said the relations between the three were such that Igityan had called her and her husband `mamajan' and `papajan', terms of endearment.
Najarian lawyer Armen Poghosyan says the case centers around misplaced trust.
Known for many years of philanthropy in Armenia and Karabakh, the Najarians' reaction to their legal problems has been seen as troublesome for future investment by Diaspora and the case has been monitored by Non-Governmental Organizations such as Transparency International and the Eurasia Foundation.
`The outcome of the case is a matter of honor not only for us, but also for Armenia in general,' Carolann Najarian said. `These two years have been a period of moral and psychological suffering for us to a degree that after 16 years of benevolence we were ready to break off our ties with Armenia and never return.
`However after a while we realized that we are quite attached to the people here since those cold and dark years when we supported people in Armenia and Artsakh.'
She further said that other Diaspora investors are closely observing their case and that `If we leave they will follow us.'
Though far from settled, Carolann Najarian had praise for the latest developments, calling the Armenian legislation `good' and saying she is confident that the law favors the Najarians' position.
Article used with permission from ArmeniaNow.com Website - 2005/4/29
Yerevan Property 'Expropriation' Not Reversed Despite Diaspora Outcry
By Emil Danielyan
Armenian law-enforcement authorities remain reluctant to prosecute a Yerevan resident accused of defrauding two prominent Armenian-American philanthropists despite court rulings that recognized the latter as `victims' of an apparent crime.
The attorneys for George Najarian and his wife Carolann accused Armenia's Office of Prosecutor-General on Tuesday of artificially dragging out its criminal investigation into the alleged misappropriation of real property claimed by the two U.S. citizens. `They are taking all possible and impossible measures to drag out the investigation,' one of the two lawyers, Ashot Poghosian, told RFE/RL.
`In effect, they are not implementing the decision of the courts and requirements of the law,' said the other lawyer, Hrayr Ghukasian.
The case is having a growing resonance in the Armenian community in the United States. Some of its prominent members sympathetic to the Najarians regard it as a litmus test of the Armenian government's stated commitment to the rule of law and.
The Najarians, who have engaged in extensive charitable work in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh for the past 15 years, have been pushing for a fraud case against their former Yerevan-based representative, Grigor Igitian, for the past two years. Igitian is the formal owner of a photo shop and two buildings currently constructed in downtown Yerevan.
The Najarians, however, insist that in fact the lucrative property belongs to them and that they registered it in Igitian's name in 1996 because Armenian law at the time did not allow foreigners to own land in the country. They claim to have invested $500,000 in the assets.
Igitian says he himself raised most of the money working as an English-language interpreter and receiving a large inheritance several years ago. The prosecutors accepted the explanation last year but were forced to take up the case after losing a court battle with the Diaspora benefactors in April. Armenia's Court of Appeals upheld at the time two lower court rulings that gave weight to the fraud allegations.
The prosecutors formally reopened the probe on May 18 but did not bring any charges against Igitian. Sources close to the inquiry say they instead questioned and even bullied witnesses whose earlier testimony substantiated the fraud claims. They allegedly threatened to imprison at least one of them.
The Najarians' lawyers again took the prosecutors to the court last month, demanding that Igitian be formally charged and that they be allowed to be present at the interrogations of the fraud suspect and witnesses. The district court in central Yerevan rejected the demands as `unfounded' on August 16.
Under Armenian law, a criminal inquiry can proceed indefinitely as long as nobody has been charged in connection with it. `It's been two years since the Najarians began fighting with the prosecutors and with no suspects identified by the prosecutors, only God knows how long this investigation will last,' said Ghukasian. `I am bewildered also because they are not denying that there is sufficient evidence [to prosecute Igitian].'
Meanwhile, the Najarians, who hailed the April court ruling as a `great victory for the judicial system of Armenia,' appear increasingly frustrated with the latest turn of events. They have initiated a campaign of open letters to President Robert Kocharian and other senior government officials. A sample letter, already signed by some U.S. citizens of Armenian descent, demands an end to `the corrupt practices of the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office which have, in effect, led to the expropriation of their investments and are causing Armenia to lose face internationally.'
`Armenia's top law enforcement officials cannot be involved in unethical and illegal practices if Armenia is to be considered a democracy,' reads the letter.
The corruption allegations were effectively dismissed by a senior prosecutor on Tuesday, however. `If there are concrete facts of corruption in this case, you should appeal to me personally,' Mihran Minasian, head of a special anti-corruption unit within the Prosecutor-General's Office, told reporters in Yerevan. `I will study them thoroughly and respond to you as soon as possible.'
`But generally speaking, the fact that a particular prosecuting structure finds a positive or negative solution to an issue alone doesn't mean it is definitely corrupt,' Minasian added.
In an article last November, Carolann Najarian alleged that the investigators are `following orders from persons within the government who stand to benefit from expropriating these properties from us.' But she did not name anyone.
The letter supporting Najarian and her husband also warns that `foreign investors will only invest in a just, fair, and democratic Armenia.' According to lawyer Poghosian, the authorities' handling of the case creates a totally different image of the country. `I can't think of a worse message to people who want to help or invest in Armenia,' he said.
(RFE/RL photo: Carolann Najarian and Ashot Poghosian speaking at a news conference in April.)
Timeline of events
- 2004 December - George Najarian sued the Office of Prosecutor-General for its refusal to press fraud charges against his former local business representative. The man, Grigor Igitian, is the legal owner of a photo shop and two buildings currently constructed in downtown Yerevan. He won this case in early December, 2004.
- 2005 April 22 - Najarian's won at the highest court of Armenia to have Igitian tried in the criminal courts, rather than civil courts. This was Igitian's last possible appeal to reverse the decision.
National Association for Armenian Studies and Research
395 Concord Avenue
Belmont, MA 02478
Contact: Marc A. Mamigonian
DR. CAROLANN NAJARIAN TO SPEAK AT NAASR ON ARMENIAN FOLK MEDICINE
Dr. Carolann Najarian of Lincoln, Mass., will speak at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) Center in Belmont, Mass., on Thursday evening, September 22, at 8 p.m., on "Healers, Holy Books, Mountains, and Gardens: Armenian Folk Medical Beliefs and Practices." The lecture will be cosponsored by NAASR and the Armenian International Women's Association (AIWA).
Every culture has a belief system regarding healthcare, and, notwithstanding the variations within the society, Armenians are no different. Many of the belief systems that affect the practice of healthcare in Armenia today are also familiar to diaspora Armenians. Others may not be as familiar as they come from the Soviet Armenian experience.
Modern Practices Rooted in Tradition
Armenian society today is undergoing tremendous upheaval and change that challenge long held values. How are these changes affecting healthcare and its practice given the traditional beliefs of Armenians? One of the answers is that people are returning to traditional forms of healthcare as a way of coping with uncertainty. Many of these practices are rooted in Armenian traditional medicine - which is a product of Armenia's history and location and is supported by aspects of what we might call its "national character."
Dr. Carolann Najarian, stepping out of her role as a medical doctor, has sought to understand this phenomenon through the eyes of a medical anthropologist. (Medical anthropology is the study of healthcare beliefs and practices.) She will present her findings and illustrate them with the many stories she has heard - some of miraculous cures, all of Armenians struggling to survive despite the uncertainty of their lives today. Members of the audience will likely recall stories of what their own parents and/or grandparents believed and what they did.
Dr. Najarian is the founder and president of the Armenian Health Alliance, and her work in Armenia and Karabagh has brought her numerous honors. A graduate of the Boston University School of Medicine, she has been a practicing internist in the Cambridge-Watertown area and an instructor in clinical medicine at the Harvard Medical School. In 2004 she completed a Masters Degree in Medical Anthropology with a thesis on Armenian folk medical practices.
Admission to the event is free (donations appreciated). The NAASR Bookstore will open at 7:30 p.m. The NAASR Center and Headquarters is located opposite the First Armenian Church and next to the U.S. Post Office. Ample parking is available around the building and in adjacent areas. The lecture will begin promptly at 8:00 p.m.
More information about the lecture is available by calling 617-489-1610, faxing 617-484-1759, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or writing to NAASR, 395 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA 02478.
Belmont, Mass. August 22, 2005
CONSTANT COMPLAINT: AFTER MORE THAN TWO YEARS, NAJARIANS CASE APPEARS NO CLOSER TO SETTLEMENT By Mariam Badalyan ArmeniaNow reporter
Last week Armenian law enforcement authorities for the third time suspended investigation of embezzlement charges filed by American Armenian philanthropists George and Carolann Najarian.
The suspension followed a court decision of August 16, which rejected the Najarians' petition to charge Grigor Igityan, a former Yerevan associate of the Boston couple, for embezzlement of their property in Armenia.
Igityan says he's done nothing wrong
For more than two years, the Najarians have been engaged in a lawsuit against Igityan. The lawsuit stems from events in which, they allege, Igityan embezzled as much as $500,000 while purchasing property on behalf of the Najarians.
Igityan allegedly misappropriated property - two buildings and land in Dzoragiugh Quarter in Central Yerevan and a photo shop on Abovian street. According to an independent evaluation firm, the total value of the two Dzoraghiugh buildings today is about $3 million.
(The Najarians have said that their case is significant not only for themselves, but because it establishes precedent for treatment of other Diaspora investors.)
Twice, investigation into the criminal complaint was suspended, due to `absence of criminal evidence'. But on April 16 the highest court of Armenia assessed a fraud case and recognized George Najarian as the aggrieved party and demanded that the Prosecutor General's Office reopen its investigation -- which it did, on May 18.
The April court decision was hailed by the Najarians as evidence that Armenia's legal system can be trusted. Soon after that, however, the Najarians, were disillusioned upon learning that the investigation had been stopped again, on August 30.
`Now, it seems to be an endless process that might last for years and years,' says Najarian attorney Hrayr Ghukasyan. `Under Armenian law criminal inquiry can last an indefinite period. Thus, we understood that the Prosecutor's office had adopted a different tactic - by means of dragging out the investigation to take it away from public sight. The end of this tactic was obvious - another suspension.'
In an interview with ArmeniaNow this week, Igityan denied having intention of submitting the property to the Najarians or having it promised to someone else.
`I have built the buildings for myself and on money from my own pocket, which I earned as a translator,' Igityan says. `Why should I give it to someone else? I may sell it one day, if someone offers a good price, but not necessarily to the Najarians.'
Igityan says he has documentation and expert assessment proving that all the money he received from George Najarian was passed to the people it was intended for.
`I have documents to prove what I say, whereas the Najarians use testimonies of witnesses,' Igityan says. `See which has the most weight, paper or someone's word?'
Among his documents is also a paper showing that, as a representative of George Najarian, Igityan sold the building to himself, as a private entity.
Grigor Nazarian, a US-based architect, whom George Najarian invited to manage the construction process says he was unaware of Igityan's intentions to sell the property to himself.
Eduard, head of construction firm E. Korkotyan and Friends, who was interviewed by prosecutors, says he thought his firm was working for George Najarian, from whom they got their salaries. Igityan, Korkotyan says, introduced himself as George Najarian's representative.
Not wishing to wait for the prosecutors to indict Igityan, Najarian attorneys filed a complaint in the court asking it to recognize Igityan as the perpetrator of the fraud (recognized by the high court in the April ruling).
The lower court decision on that complaint came out on August 16. Essentially, the court accepted explanations on the Prosecutor General's behalf, which said it required more time for a better examination of the facts and additional interrogations. The court also ruled (against a Najarian petition) that the Prosecutor General's Office was not required to allow Najarian attorneys to be present during its interrogation of potential witnesses.
`Our complaint that the court name the accused was unprecedented, but so was the Prosecutor General's Office' last decision which ignores the court decision,' Ghukasyan says. `I hope the court takes this into account.'
If the court rules for the Prosecutor General's Office to re-open the investigation but does not recognize Igityan as the accused, the lawyers fear it may result in an unending investigation process, since under Armenian laws the investigation may last as long as the investigators may deem it necessary.
`We simply want that this case be heard in the court open to the public, and not be decided behind closed doors of the Prosecutor General's Office,' adds Najarian attorney Ashot Poghosyan.
Meanwhile, the Najarians have vowed to take their complaint to international court if necessary.
`It is very sad for us to inflict any harm on a country and people we love and have been so caring,' Carolann Najarian told ArmeniaNow. `But we see no other way to show people who say it is they who make the laws, that there are ways to hold them responsible for their misdeeds.'
- http://www.najarian.info - the Najarian's official website.