WASHINGTON, DC (RFE/RL) — — A holder of an Armenian diplomatic passport is one of 10 Russian nationals that have been blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department for allegedly leading a major organized-crime syndicate.
The department’s Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) imposed financial sanctions on those individuals as well as two entities late last week, accusing them of involvement in “serious transnational criminal activities.” It described them as leaders of the syndicate known as “Thieves-in-Law,” which is also a widely used Russian term to describe powerful organized-crime figures.
“Today’s action generally prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or other transactions with these individuals and entities, and freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction,” the OFAC said in a statement.
The blacklist includes Ruben Tatulian, an ethnic Armenian wealthy businessman based in the Russian city of Sochi. According to the Treasury Department, he has provided “material support” to the Thieves-in-Law.
“In 2010, Tatulian was appointed as the ‘overseer’ of the Sochi, Russia Thieves-in-Law operation run by a senior Thief-in-Law,” said the OFAC statement. “In 2015, Tatulian was detained as a participant at a meeting of Thieves-in-Law in Sochi along with Zakhary Kalashov; one of at least two instances in which Tatulian was detained at a meeting of Thieves-in-Law.”
“In addition, on more than one occasion, Tatulian has assisted Thieves-in-Law who encountered legal problems,” it added.
Earlier this year, some Armenian media outlets referred to Tatulian as a crime figure nicknamed “Robson” who holds an Armenian diplomatic passport. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Tatulian has such a passport. But it declined to clarify why and how he had received it.
The ministry promised on Monday that it will again comment on the issue soon.
Tatulian was among three dozen Russian-Armenian entrepreneurs who issued a joint statement in January voicing support for Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. They also pledged to join an investment fund which one of them, the Moscow-based billionaire Samvel Karapetian (no relation), set up with the stated aim of financing various business projects in Armenia.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Karapetian insisted on Monday that Tatulian is not a member of the fund called the Investors Club of Armenia (ICA). “Secondly, the prime minister is not obliged to know all members of the club personally,” Aram Araratian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Asked whether the Armenian government would welcome any investments from Tatulian, Araratian said: “I repeat: as far as I know, that person is not a member of the Investors Club of Armenia.”
The official also downplayed Karen Karapetian’s ties to the investment fund. “True, it was set up at Karen Karapetian’s initiative,” he said. “But it’s a separate structure. It’s not part of or subordinate to the government. Therefore, we have no authority to decide who can join it and who cannot.”