MOSCOW—Noted philanthropist and businessman Levon Hayrapetyan died overnight on Wednesday in a Russian prison in Mordovia, where he was serving time on politically-motivated charges of alleged embezzlement and bribery. He was 68 and was in poor health ever since his arrest at the Moscow airport in 2014.
Hayrapetian, who made his fortune in Russia in the energy sector after the collapse of the Soviet Union, invested and donated millions of dollars in Armenia and Artsakh, and has made philanthropic contributions to Diaspora organizations.
His contributions and support for Artsakh and Armenia were unwavering and he became a respected and popular figure in Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora. He financed the upgrading of Artsakh’s infrastructure as well as the restoration of the 13th century Gandzasar Monastery in Artsakh. He is best known, however, for sponsoring a mass wedding of 700 couples in Artsakh in 2008. Aside from covering the cost of the weddings and the reception, he also gave each couple $2,500 to start their families.
“We have learned with deep sorrow in Artsakh about the death of prominent Armenian entrepreneur, great patriot and philanthropist, devoted son of our people Levon Hayrapetyan. The memory of Levon Hayrapetyan will always remain bright in the memory of generations,” said Artsakh president Bako Sahakian in a condolence letter issued on Wednesday.
“Levon Hayrapetyan stood at the forefront of the Artsakh Republic’s formation, spared no effort to improve his homeland and make it prosperous, to create better living conditions for his native people and raise their living standards. With his assistance numerous large projects in diverse economic sectors were implemented in Artsakh—the Gandzasar monastic complex was renovated,” said Sahakian.
“Levon Hayrapetyan’s contribution to the development of Artsakh was highly appreciated by the state. For services rendered to the Homeland Levon Hayrapetyan was awarded the order ‘Mesrop Mashtots’ and the ‘Gratitude’ medal,” added Sahakian in his statement.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, described Hayrapetian as a “great son of the Armenian people” and an “exemplary patriot” in a Twitter statement that announced his death. “May he rest in peace,” Balayan wrote in Russian. “We will never forget Levon Gurgenovich and his legacy,” reported Azatutyun.am.
Artsakh’s State Minister Arayik Harutunyan also echoed the praise by noting Hayrapetyan “invaluable” contributions to Artsakh. “This is undoubtedly a great loss for all Armenians,” he told the Armenpress news agency.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation released a statement mourning the untimely death of Armenian businessman and philanthropist Levon Hayrapetyan.
“Mr. Hayrapetyan was a patriotic figure who was concerned with the fate of the nation and worked towards its prosperous and secure future. One may recall his several initiatives directed at the revival and strengthening of Artsakh, which inspired and broadly addressed the hearts of grateful compatriots,” read a part of the statement.
“[Hayrapetyan’s] unselfish devotion was also demonstrated by his steadfast readiness to support the activities of the Armenian Cause,” the ARF statement continued.
Hayrapetyan—said to be a citizen of Armenia, Russia, and the United States—was born in Vank in Artsakh’s Martakert district in 1949, where he invested millions of dollars improving the village’s infrastructure. He attended Yerevan State University and Moscow State University, after which he spent more than a decade working in the oil sector in Siberia.
The last years of his life were marred by the politically motivated arrest and subsequent incarceration, stemming from charges that he allegedly embezzled funds from Bashneft, the oil company he helped establish.
In July 2014, he was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) upon his arrival at a Moscow airport. Hayrapetyan had gone to Moscow from Yerevan for medical treatment.
Hayrapetyan’s arrest and subsequent detention stemmed from suspicions of collusion and embezzlement around the 2009 sale of the oil company Bashneft. He was formally charged with receiving a $50 million fee as part of the Bashneft sale and was put under house arrest, all while he maintained his innocence and denied any wrongdoing. He was released in Sept. 2015 after the maximum period of house arrest had expired.
In April of last year, Hayrapetyan was sentenced to a four-year prison term by a Moscow district court on charges of embezzlement. Hayrapetyan was found guilty of defrauding the mother of former Russian senator Igor Izmestyev—who is serving imprisonment for murder—of $700,000. The court rejected an earlier motion for a seven-year prison term by the prosecution.
His health was already deteriorating when the criminal proceedings against him began. His last wish was to be buried next to his family members in Moscow.