The United States will seek Armenia’s assistance should it need such in its current investigation of a major medical insurance fraud by an Armenian American syndicate, visiting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials said on Thursday.
FBI legal attache Kevin Donovan, FBI regional security officer Lance Leveque and legal advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia Steve Kessler met with Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian in Yerevan to “officially give information about the criminal case in the United States over banking and medical insurance fraud in which ethnic Armenians have also been involved”, according to a Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesperson.
The FBI official reported that 73 people have been charged with banking and medical frauds of over $100 million in the U.S. Thirty-two people members of an Armenian American syndicate were arrested on October 13.
Law-enforcement officials in the United States said among the members of the group there were many immigrants with substantial ties to Armenia. The suspected ringleader, Armen Kazarian, is known as a top crime figure in former Soviet countries enjoying a “vor v zakone” (or criminal underworld lord) status and goes by the nickname Pzo.
District attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said the top members of the group had substantial ties to Armenia, regularly visited the South Caucasus country, buying property there with the funds illegally acquired in the United States. He also stated that they used threats, intimidation and violence operating in a classical mafia style.
Allegations of Government Connection
Allegations about links between the crime syndicate and authorities of Armenia has been one of the central subjects in Armenian media of late.
The opposition insists that Armenian authorities had patronized the criminals, while pro-government representatives brush aside similar allegations.
Armenia’s opposition newspapers wrote that Pzo was a “guest of honor” at the wedding of former president Robert Kocharian’s son Sedrak. But on October 18, the office of Kocharian denied that information.
A spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia also denied the opposition media’s allegations of links between Kazarian and the current president.
The Zhamanak daily newspaper, meanwhile, has also alleged close ties between Kazarian and deputy head of the Nubarashen penitentiary Serob Harutyunyan.
Karabakh’s former foreign minister Arman Melikyan says that exposing an Armenian criminal group will have a negative impact on the process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement.
At a press conference on October 19 Melikyan suggested that in the near future the U.S. might try to exert serious pressure on the top echelons of power in Armenia.
“Huge amounts of money have been stolen from the [U.S.] state budget. Logically, the American side will freeze the bank deposits of our current and former representatives of the power elite involved in corrupt activities,” he said. He also noted that in this case the Armenian government may resort to concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.