Cypriot Attorney General Petros Clerides on Monday dealt a blow to the credibility of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s assurances that he has no ties to a Cyprus-registered company that was allegedly used for defrauding an Armenian businessman.
Sarkisian has been under fire since the publication by the investigative publication Hetq.am in late May of a report that linked him to the company called Wlispera Holdings. Hetq.am disclosed a document purportedly certifying that he co-owns it along with Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan, a controversial pro-government cleric, and businessman Ashot Sukiasian.
Sukiasian is currently on the run, having been charged by the Armenian police with fraud about two weeks ago. The case stems from allegations by another entrepreneur, Paylak Hayrapetian, that Sukiasian misappropriated the bulk of a $10.7 million loan which he borrowed from an Armenian commercial bank to finance a business project proposed by the fugitive businessman.
According to Hetq.am, Sukiasian transferred the sum to the offshore bank accounts of Wlispera Holdings and several other firms mostly controlled by the latter.
Both Sarkisian and Kchoyan strongly denied having any stakes in the company, saying that it was registered in their names in Cyprus without their knowledge. The prime minister also lodged a complaint with Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, demanding a criminal investigation. However, government critics brushed aside his assurances even after Sukiasian declared on June 18 that he indeed falsely attributed co-ownership of his obscure firm to Sarkisian and Kchoyan.
Asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) whether authorities in Cyprus, a world famous tax haven, can register a company in the name of an individual who is unaware of its existence, Clerides said, “No. But I don’t want to go into details until I look into the case and documents that are needed for investigating those events.”
The Cypriot official was visiting Yerevan to attend a meeting of the chief prosecutors of several European and former Soviet states. He said he discussed the fraud case with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.
“A few minutes ago he told me about that story,” said Clerides. “I hear about it for the first time. He promised to give me all the necessary documents before my departure, and I pledged to immediately take steps and respond.”