YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The National Security Service (NSS) said on Thursday that an indicted brother of Armenia’s former President Serzh Sarkisian has paid the state $30 million from a bank account that was frozen last summer.
It emerged earlier this week that the NSS is pressing fraud charges against Aleksandr “Sashik” Sarkisian. Also, Armenian media reports said that he has donated $18.5 million from his frozen account to the government.
The NSS director, Artur Vanetsian, confirmed the reports. He said that Sarkisian has also agreed to settle a back tax debt by transferring the remaining $11.5 million the state treasury.
“The criminal investigation is continuing and its results will be made public,” Vanetsian told reporters.
The NSS chief declined to comment on reasons for the hefty donation made by Sarkisian. He denied striking any deals with the ex-president’s brother.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan publicly demanded in September that Aleksandr Sarkisian “return the money to the state budget.” Sarkisian rejected Pashinian’s demand as illegal but later offered to donate a part of the $30 million account if his and his family members’ assets are unblocked.
Sarkisian’s lawyer on Tuesday dismissed the fraud charges brought against his client. He said they stem from over a dozen drawings by the 20th century Armenian painter Martiros Saryan which were found in Sarkisian’s Yerevan house in July. The NSS confiscated the drawings, saying that his fugitive son Narek had fraudulently obtained them from Saryan’s descendants.
The 62-year-old Sarkisian, whose brother was overthrown in last spring’s “velvet revolution” led by Pashinyan, is thought to have made a big fortune in the past two decades. He held a parliament seat from 2003-2011.
Also facing prosecution are another former Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, and his elder son Sedrak. The NSS said on Tuesday that it has charged the latter with evading nearly $2 million in taxes and laundering an even larger amount of money. Sedrak Kocharian rejected the accusations as “fabricated,” saying that they are part of the current authorities’ persecution of his arrested father and broader family.
Vanetsian denied any political motives behind the high-profile case. He noted in that regard that Robert Kocharian had also accomplished “many positive things” while in power.
Vanetsian announced in September that his agency is scrutinizing what he described as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets belonging to Kocharian’s family. A few weeks later, the NSS launched a corruption investigation into Armen Avetisian, who ran Armenia’s customs service during Kocharian’s rule. It said that Avetisian is suspected of illegal involvement in entrepreneurial activity and money laundering.
In particular, it said, he financed the construction of a luxury hotel in Yerevan through an obscure company registered in Cyprus. It remains unclear whether Avetisian has been formally charged.
Vanetsian confirmed on Thursday that the former customs chief’s son has offered to donate another five-star hotel, located in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor, to the state. “That process is now in progress,” he said.
During Avetisian’s tenure in 2001-2008, the customs service solidified its reputation as one of Armenia’s most corrupt government agencies.