Monday, October 26, 2020

Armenia: Ex-president Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law indicted on corruption charges

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Armenian tax authorities have brought corruption charges against Mikael Minasyan, former President Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law and reputed confidant for illegal enrichment, false asset disclosure and money laundering which were leveled against him one month ago. Minasyan’s lawyers rejected them as unfounded and politically motivated.

Minasyan served as Armenia’s ambassador to the Vatican from 2013 to 2018. He was sacked in November 2018 six months after Sarkisian was toppled in the “Velvet Revolution” led by Nikol Pashinyan, the current prime minister.

Minasyan, 42, 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.

One of the defense lawyers, Amram Makinyan, said the money laundering charge stems from large sums of cash which Minasyan transferred from one of his bank accounts to another in 2017-2018. He declined to specify the total amount of that money.

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“The investigating body has noted that documents at his disposal prove the legal origin of the money and that money resulted from the sale of his stake in a property,” Makinyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The transfer of the proceeds from the totally legal sale of those assets is now deemed money laundering. This is one of the most pathetic accusations I have ever seen.”

The lawyer also insisted that the other accusations are based on a “technical error” committed by the employee of a private firm which drew up and filed Minasyan’s income declarations. He said that SRC investigators are refusing to summon that person for questioning.

“The investigating body and prosecutors realize that the criminal case will collapse if they are interrogated,” claimed Makinyan.

In his first income declaration filed with a state body in 2013, Minasyan said that he owns an apartment in Yerevan, four villas and shares in two companies in addition to having more than $2.5 million in cash in his bank accounts. He also declared ownership of an expensive collection of more than 200 artworks.

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In Makinyan’s words, the investigators have asked a court in Yerevan to allow his client’s arrest.

Minasyan apparently left Armenia shortly after his sacking. Since then he has increasingly attacked Armenia’s current leadership and Pashinyan in particular with articles posted on his Facebook page and disseminated by Armenian media outlets believed to be controlled by him. He has accused the government of incompetence and misrule.

For his part, Pashinyan has repeatedly accused Minasyan of illegally making a huge fortune during Sarkisian’s rule. Pashinyan most probably referred to Sarkisian’s son-in-law when he pledged, during a November 2019 visit to Italy, to bring to justice Armenia’s “best-known corrupt individuals” who he said are “hiding in Vatican basements.”

In a January 11 article, Pashinyan’s “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily accused Minasyan of masterminding a smear campaign against the prime minister family.

Minasyan’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 Minasyan strongly denied the allegations. He apparently fled Armenia before being formally charged in November 2018.

Sarkisian, who still leads the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia, is also facing embezzlement charges which he rejects as politically motivated. The ex-president’s trial began in late February.

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