Government Accuses Former Foreign Minister of Money Laundering

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenia law-enforcement authorities Monday accused two former government ministers of illegally receiving and laundering money from Russia for subversive political purposes. The accusations came after officers of the National Security Service searched and confiscated large amounts of cash from the Yerevan apartmen’s of former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian and former Industrial Infrastructures Minister Vahan Shirkhanian on Saturday. In a statement, the NSS said the sums were sent to them by Levon Markos, a Russian businessman of Armenian descent who fled Armenia in 2005 to avoid prosecution on fraud charges and, according to the security agency, is pursuing some goals in the run-up to the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The statement said Arzumanian and Shirkhanian met Markos during an April 24 to 26 visit to Moscow and received a total of $180,000 upon their return to Yerevan. The money was wired in several installmen’s in the name of nine different individuals acting as figureheads for the two, it added. The NSS did not specify how they were supposed to use the alleged financial aid, saying only that its officers found $55,400 in Arzumanians apartment and $28,000 in Shirkhanian. Both men admitted on Monday visiting Moscow late last month but strongly denied receiving any financial aid from the fugitive businessman. Arzumanian, who had served as foreign minister from 1996-1998, claimed that he visited the Russian capital to attend the funeral of Russia’s former President Boris Yeltsin and did not meet Markos. I have known Levon Markos since 1977 but have not met in the last several years, he said. Shirkhanian likewise denied meeting Markos or getting any money from the latter. I have known Levon for 20 years, he said. That person provided huge assistance to Armenia during the Karabakh war. But I didnt see him during my last trip to Moscow. Shirkhanian also said he has received a lump sum from other Moscow-based individuals. I asked my friends and they sent $80,000 for my daughters wedding party and for renting office space for my [pro-Russian] non-governmental organization Shanghai Club of Armenia, he said. Both Arzumanian and Shirkhanian were summoned to the NSS headquarters in Yerevan for questioning on Saturday. The latter was also interrogated by the former KGB on Monday. Neither man has been formally charged under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with attempts to legalize revenues obtained by criminal means.

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