YEREVAN — Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan Vicar General of the Araratian Pontifical Diocese has been charged with fraud and money laundering 18 months after being cleared of the same accusations brought in 2020.
Law-enforcement authorities claimed at the time that Archbishop Kchoyan had colluded with an Armenian businessman to defraud another entrepreneur.
The businessman, Ashot Sukiasyan, was convicted in late 2017 of having misappropriated most of a $10.7 million loan which his former business partner, Paylak Hayrapetyan, borrowed from an Armenian commercial bank in 2012. Sukiasyan had pledged to invest that money in diamond mining in Sierra Leone. He never did that, according to prosecutors.
A district court in Yerevan sentenced Sukiasyan to 16 years in prison. However, Armenia’s Court of Appeals released him from prison in January 2020.
Sukiasyan was arrested in Georgia, extradited to Armenia and prosecuted in 2014 after Hetq.am discovered that Hayrapetian’s money was transferred to the offshore bank accounts of several Cyprus-registered companies. The investigative publication published a document purportedly certifying that one of those firms is co-owned by Sukiasyan, then Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisyan and Archbishop Kchoyan.
Sarkisyan and Kchoyan strongly denied having any stakes in the company, saying that it was registered in their name in Cyprus without their knowledge. Sukiasyan likewise claimed to have forged their signatures.
The authorities indicted Kchoyan in April 2020. The Investigative Committee decided to drop them and close the criminal case in early 2022, citing a lack of evidence. Hayrapetyan appealed against that decision, leading a senior prosecutor to order the investigators this week to reopen the case and indict Kchoyan again.
The archbishop’s lawyer, Armine Fanyan, on Wednesday described the fresh indictment as illegal, saying that the investigators did not come up with new incriminating evidence legally required in such cases. Fanyan also argued that the allegedly defrauded businessman missed a legal deadline for appealing against their earlier decision.
Another senior prosecutor, Artyom Ovsyan, said, meanwhile, that “large-scale investigative measures” are now being taken to find such evidence. The investigators are trying to locate and interrogate Tigran Sarkisyan, Ovsyan said, adding that the former prime minister is not in Armenia at the moment.