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Armenian Businessman Sentenced For Fraud
Հոկտեմբեր 03, 2017
An Armenian businessman has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for defrauding another entrepreneur who has implicated former Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in the high-profile case.
A district court in Yerevan convicted Ashot Sukiasian late on Monday of having misappropriated most of a $10.7 million loan which his former business partner, Paylak Hayrapetian, borrowed from an Armenian commercial bank in 2012. Sukiasian had pledged to invest that money in diamond mining in Sierra Leone. He never did that, according to prosecutors.
Sukiasian was arrested in Georgia, extradited to Armenia and charged with fraud, money laundering and tax evasion in 2014. The Armenian police issued an international arrest warrant for him in 2013 after a series of reports published by Hetq.am.
The investigative publication discovered that Hayrapetian’s money was transferred to the offshore bank accounts of several Cyprus-registered companies. It disclosed a document purportedly certifying that one of those firms is co-owned by Sukiasian, then Prime Minister Sarkisian and Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Both Sarkisian, who resigned as prime minister in April 2014, and Kchoyan strongly denied having any stakes in the company, saying that it was registered in their names in Cyprus without their knowledge. Sukiasian claimed to have forged their signatures shortly after his arrest.
Hayrapetian, a formerly wealthy man now living in a modest Yerevan apartment, continued to implicate Sarkisian in the alleged scam, however. The former premier, who now heads the Moscow-based executive body of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, filed a libel suit against him in 2015.
During his trial, Sukiasian denied not only the ex-premier’s and Archbishop Kchoyan’s links to the offshore firm but also the charges levelled against him. His lawyer, Yuri Khachatrian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he will appeal against the verdict.
Khachatrian said earlier that Sukiasian himself is a victim of fraud. He claimed that his client lost control over a diamond mine in Sierra Leone because he was cheated by a Belarusian partner. The lawyer also dismissed Hayrapetian’s complaints, saying that the latter was always aware that doing business in the war-ravaged African state is very risky.
In addition to the lengthy prison sentence, a district court in Yerevan also ordered the arrested businessman to pay Hayrapetian almost 9 billion drams ($19 million) in damages.