YERVAN (RFE/RL)—A controversial Russian businessman blacklisted by the United States for his alleged ties to organized crime has worked as an “adviser” to Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan acknowledged on Tuesday.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on the Russian-Armenian businessman Ruben Tatulyan and nine other Russian nationals last month. The department’s Office of Financial Assets Control accused them of joint involvement in “serious transnational criminal activities.”
Tatulyan, who is based in the Black Sea city of Sochi, holds an Armenian diplomatic passport, raising questions about his ties to Armenia’s government.
The businessman shrugged off the U.S. sanctions in an interview a Sochi-based Russian blogger published over the weekend. He said he cannot be affected by them because he has no assets in the United States.
Tatulyan also said that he not only has an Armenian diplomatic passport but also uses cars belonging to Armenia’s Embassy in Russia. “I am an adviser to the foreign minister of Armenia,” he added when asked about the reason for that.
“Ruben Tatulyan was a freelance adviser to the foreign minister and he does not have that status now,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Balayan declined to clarify when Tatulyan had such a status. Nor would he say why or when the Russian-Armenian tycoon reportedly nicknamed “Robson” received his diplomatic passport.
According to Russian media reports, Tatulyan has extensive business interests and strong government connections in southern Russia. An OFAC statement released on December 22 described him as a regional “overseer” of the alleged organized-crime syndicate targeted by the U.S. Treasury Department.