MOSCOW (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday paid tribute to Armenian businessman and philanthropist Levon Hayrapetian who died overnight while serving a controversial prison sentence in Russia.

Hayrapetian, who was born in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1949 and made a fortune in Russia after the Soviet breakup, was first detained in July 2014. He was then placed under house arrest only to be sentenced to four years in prison in April 2016.

A Moscow court convicted Hayrapetian of embezzling $700,000 from the mother of a jailed senator from the Russian republic of Bashkortostan. The businessman, who suffered from a serious disease, flatly denied the accusation.

Hayrapetian’s arrest was part of a high-profile criminal case stemming from the 2005 purchase by the state oil giant Rosneft of a majority stake in Bashneft, a Bashkortostan-based oil company. Russian law-enforcement authorities accused Bashneft’s previous owner, the business conglomerate Sistema, of resorting to serious fraud prior to the deal.

The Bashneft affair also led to the November 2016 arrest of Russia’s Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev. Ulyukaev has strongly denied a bribery case against him, saying that it was engineered by Igor Sechin, the powerful Rosneft chief close to President Vladimir Putin.

Politicians and public figures in Armenia and Karabakh repeatedly appealed to Russian authorities to free Hayrapetian. The businessman remained behind bars despite his deteriorating health. Hayrapetian’s daughter Anzhelika told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he died in a prison in Russia’s Mordovia region early on Wednesday.

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.”

Arayik Harutiunian, Karabakh’s state minister, likewise called Hayrapetian a “great benefactor of the Armenian nation” and noted his “invaluable” contributions to Karabakh. “This is undoubtedly a great loss for all Armenians,” he told the Armenpress news agency.

Hayrapetian spent millions of dollars on various charity projects in Karabakh. In particular, he financed the 2000-2002 restoration of the 13th century Gandzasar monastery located just outside his native village of Vank.

Hayrapetian also famously sponsored the collective wedding in 2008 of about 700 Karabakh couples. He covered their wedding expenses and paid each couple $2,500 as a bonus. Medical services in Karabakh struggled to cope with a resulting surge in child births the following year.

Hayrapetian spoke of his desire to relocate from Moscow to Karabakh when he was interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in October 2015.

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