On April 1st, 2010, WikiLeaks Central reports that the Armenian General Prosecutor’s Office has been contradicted by WikiLeaks cables on ‘government-run sex trafficking’ in Armenia. The following is the Wikileaks Central report:
Cables on sex trafficking in Armenia reveal frank contempt toward victims and contradictory statements from the law enforcement officials on collusion in sex trafficking. The Republic of Armenia General Prosecutor’s Office released an explanation on 14th February 2011 on the corruption allegation mentioned in a cable. The explanation in the official press release is contradicted by information on reports of Armenian investigative journalists and TIP reports published by the U.S. Department of State.
Concerning the information given to the US diplomats by the prostitutes that the employee of the RA General Prosecutor’s Office A. Yeremyan committed violations, it is informed that at that time the RA Prosecutor General tasked to conduct investigation, a interdepartmental committee was formed and all the appeals were checked which were not confirmed based on the conclusions of the interdepartmental committee and the results of the investigation.
The ‘violations’ mentioned above are mentioned in the cable 06YEREVAN1091, which was written in 2006. This assertion about the ‘investigation’ against complicity of an official A.Yeremyan has been proven to be false ever since 2006, the year the incident occurred, mainly by the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) published annually by the U.S. Department of State. The following are evidences that the General Prosecutor’s Office did nothing meaningful on the allegation in 2006 until this day:
2006 TIP report:
The government failed to vigorously investigate and prosecute ongoing and widespread allegations of public officials’ complicity in trafficking. Victim-blaming and lack of sensitivity for victims remain a problem among Armenian officials, particularly in the judiciary.
2007 TIP report:
In the first of two notable cases of official corruption during the reporting period, the government conducted an inadequate investigation of a senior investigator in the Prosecutor General’s anti-trafficking unit, formally concluded that he did nothing wrong, eventually transferred him out of the unit, and demoted him.
2008 TIP report:
While the government elevated anti-trafficking responsibilities to the ministerial level, adopted a new National Action Plan, and drafted a National Referral Mechanism, it has yet to show tangible progress in identifying and protecting victims or in tackling trafficking complicity of government officials. … The Armenian government made some notable improvements in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, but it failed to demonstrate evidence of investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences of officials complicit in trafficking.
2009 TIP report:
In December 2008, the government reopened its investigation into a well-documented 2006 case in which a convicted trafficker was released from prison and escaped the country allegedly with the assistance of various government officials; this was an important step forward and results of this investigation warrant future monitoring.
2010 TIP report:
The Armenian government increased its overall law enforcement efforts against human trafficking during the reporting period, however, it did not demonstrate efforts to prosecute cases linked to previous allegations of government officials’ complicity.
Although there were no new reports of government officials’ complicity in trafficking over the last year, the government demonstrated only modest progress in the reopened investigation of a well-documented 2006 corruption case.
The US embassy has known that Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan and his investigators are guilty: “Basic facts are accurate”
In 06YEREVAN1091, the cable mentioned in the official press release from the Office in February, ambassador Evans vividly describes the culture of immunity and rampant power abuse in the prosecution of Armenia. Two victims of sex trafficking, Madoyan and Mkrtchyan accused two investigators under Hovsepyan, Aristakes Yeremyan and Armen Gasparyan, for threatening them to testify false statements favorable to their trafficker that she owe less money to the victims. Madoyan claimed that Yeremyan punched her in the face in 31st June, 2006 and ‘accused them of blackmailing the trafficker’ by filing police statements. The ambassador points out the clear contempt and negligence overtly shown in the investigation process.
When the ambassador pushed this case further to the prosecutor general Hovsepyan, he answered with the Armenian saying, “May God keep us from the evil that comes from prostitutes.” Hovsepyan talked about the victims with an amazingly frank contempt, saying that such cases are common and most of them are ill-intentioned conspiracy of prostitutes unsatisfied with the money their pimp gives. He adamantly praised Yeremyan and tried hard to avoid serious investigation toward the alleged violence and threatening done by Yeremyan and Gasparyan.
The ambassador wrote in a comment that although details in the allegation reported by the victims are ‘open to some questions’, they are ‘persuaded, however, that the basic facts of the case are accurate.’ He noted that ‘Hovsepyan’s performance was in character and betrayed the Prosecutor General’s apparent personal attitude toward trafficking victims and cases.’
The governmental authority takes a significant part in sex trafficking ring of Armenia; without it, the ‘industry’ cannot endure
The real picture of aid granted by the authorities is in fact a major factor that retains the current sex trafficking network. A great deal of evidence in the works of investigative journalists strongly indicate that the scale and level of sophistication regarding the sex trafficking in Armenia is impossible without active help from law enforcement personnel. A series of reports mainly from Armenian investigative journalist Edik Baghdasaryan, who received ‘Defender of Armenia Freedom Award’ from the U.S. ambassador in 2009 for his works, show how the cooperation of high-ranking officials in the prosecution turned out to be a crucial help for pimps and traffickers.
One of the most notorious cases is the escape of infamous pimp Anush Zakharyants from prison. Baghdasaryan’s report on the incident reveals how the high-ranking members of Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office, and National Security Service worked jointly to forge legal documents, delete criminal records, and release Zakharyants. This incident is also mentioned as the latter of the two ‘notable cases’ reported in 2007 TIP Report, which shows no progress in further investigation or prosecution effort:
The second case involved a convicted trafficker who was released from prison temporarily under a provision of Armenian law, allegedly obtained her expired passport from government officials, and then fled the country. Although the government made limited efforts to locate the trafficker, she remained at large at the conclusion of the reporting period. No government officials were prosecuted for acts related to the trafficker’s escape, although the three top officials of the prison were removed and remain under investigation.
Another cable discussing sex trafficking in Armenia, 06YEREVAN1019, describes a local NGO staff member, Artur Sakunts of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, reporting that ‘police actually help facilitate prostitution’. He talks about allegations that ‘the Vanadzor police protected pimps and threatened prostitutes who wanted to quit their jobs.’ Other NGO staff also tells about cases of ‘police patronizing the prostitutes.’
A case study : Aristakes Yeremyan
Aristakes Yeremyan, the investigator accused of wielding violence discussed in the cable, is a prime example that shows how high-ranking officials in the position of preventing the sex trafficking may actively play important roles in it with total immunity. Although he was transferred out from the unit and later demoted, no investigation was launched on the alleged crimes committed by him. He had been reported in various crime scenes of sex trafficking through other incidents. The ‘scenes’ vary from direct involvement to ones that are related with larger scale corruptions.
Direct involvement involves the case in 2006 in which he was charged with receiving $5,000 bribe from a “reputed pimp” Anahit Malkhasian. Larger scale corruption network was reported in 2006 regarding his active complicity with a trafficking ring from Armenia to United Arab Emirates, which the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 TIP report officially confirmed and deplored that the government does nothing about it.
Also, many investigation procedures on anti-trafficking issues in which he attempted to distort the testimonies from victims are reported in the Hermine case. In this case, victim Hermine Zakaryan tells her story about how Yeremyan released a trafficker named Yenok and bluntly told her to ‘write a statement saying that she has no charges to press against Yenok’. She declined and gave a detailed testimony on how Yenok beat her when she denied to work further as a sexual slave after her forced ‘payment’ was made. Despite her testimony that he beat her in the back and face and stabbed her in the leg, Yenok’s name virtually disappeared from the case due to the efforts from Yeremyan and other investigators.