Armenia, under new leadership, re-opens Panama Papers case
Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 13:20
Armenia has re-opened a Panama Papers-related probe into a powerful political figure months after a new government came into office on the heels of a peaceful revolution.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) is investigating Mihran Poghosyan, 42, over his interests in three offshore companies, according to correspondence seen by ICIJ. Major General Poghosyan served as Armenia’s Chief Compulsory Enforcement Officer from 2008 to 2016, overseeing the enforcement of court rulings across the country. He was elected to parliament in 2017.
Under Armenian law, it is illegal for government officials to manage overseas business. SIS is also investigating possible money laundering, according to the correspondence.
The SIS launched an investigation into Poghosyan after ICIJ’s media partner Hetq published the story in April 2016. Hetq reported that Poghosyan did not declare his shares in the offshore companies, as required by law.
Poghosyan denied any role in three Panama-registered companies – Sigtem Real Estates Inc., Hopkinten Trading Inc. and Bangio Invest S.A. – despite documents from the Panama Papers that included his name, address and passport.
Poghosyan told investigators that he helped a friend set up offshore companies and that his name was included on the paperwork in error.
The SIS dropped the case in January 2017, citing a lack of evidence. Transparency advocates criticized the decision as politically-motivated.
Months later, Poghosyan was elected to the Armenian parliament as a member of the ruling Republican Party.
The SIS re-opened the investigation in 2018 following the Republican Party’s collapse after weeks of nonviolent protests known as the “Velvet Revolution.” In the revolution’s aftermath, longtime SIS chief, Vahram Shahinyan, resigned. Poghosyan did not recontest his parliamentary seat in December.
Poghosyan was a shareholder of the three Panama companies, according to documents from the Panama Papers. The three companies passed resolutions to open bank accounts in Geneva, Switzerland, according to documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Hetq reported that two companies, Sigtem Real Estates Inc. and Hopkingten Trading Inc., owned an Armenian business that appraised the value of an iconic government entertainment complex on behalf of the government. The government sold the complex to private investors in 2015 for $26 million. Critics argued the complex was worth significantly more.
Poghosyan could not be reached for comment.
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