Results of thieves’ and functionaries’ rule over Armenia
The current purge in the Armenian circles of power launched by new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan exposed unbelievably close ties between the authorities and thieves-in-law. In the first months of his rule, Pashinyan encountered powerful clans, cronyism, and corruption supported by the criminal world. Now his personal fate and the fate of the entire country depend on his victory in this fierce battle.
A large-scale operation targeting so-called ‘Armenian mafia’ was recently carried out in Spain. The authorities have detained at least 129 people linked with thieves-in-law brothers Shushanashvili, also known as Kakha and Lasha Rustavsky, and some crowned thief from Armenia. The criminal group has been charged with drug trafficking, arms trading, tobacco smuggling, money laundering, corruption in sports bookmaking, and other crimes committed throughout Europe.
In the past, similar news from such Mediterranean countries as Spain, France, and Greece were related only to ‘Georgian mafia’. Now the public became aware of a new ethnic gang.
According to the Spanish authorities, the inquest against ‘Armenian mafia’ has been launched back in 2016 – after the murder of two Georgian citizens affiliated with clan Shushanashvili. However, the public links the recent arrests with the events ongoing after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in Armenia where thieves-in-law, criminal ‘authorities’, and corrupt officials having ties with them are now detained on a regular basis.
Nikol Pashinyan (Photo: Artem Geodakyan/TASS)
Initially, it could seem that the demonstrative arrests of prominent criminals are just populist measures taken by new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (after the transition to the parliamentary regime, this is the top position in the republic). But apparently, the thieves-in-law were just the first step in the struggle targeting all the problematic spheres of this post-Soviet country – not only the criminal world, but corruption and oligarchs as well. Now it becomes clear what is the true goal of this struggle and who, according to the new authorities, is responsible for the current situation in Armenia.
A nonviolent change of power occurred in Armenia in the course of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in April 2018. Its direct cause was the nomination of ex-President Serzh Sargsyan for the Prime Minister after the Constitutional Referendum carried out in 2015. Based on the referendum results, he had to transfer the power to the Prime Minister in April 2018. While announcing this initiative, Serzh Sargsyan had promised not to run for the President or Prime Minister to guarantee that the only purposes of these reforms were democracy and freedom. As a result of the mass protests, Serzh Sargsyan and his Government have resigned, and opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan became the Prime Minister.
Mass arrests of thieves-in-law began in mid-May, after the appointment of Pashinyan’s henchman Artur Vanetsyan the Director of the National Security Service of Armenia (NSS). Initially, reports about prophylactic talks with them had appeared. Then it became known that a congregation planned to be held in a Yerevan hotel has been prevented. In addition, the law enforcement authorities forced Irakly, grandson of criminal ‘patriarch’ Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan) to leave the country.
Then the operatives came to residences of supreme Armenian crowned thieves: Samvel Arutyunyan (Samvelik), Zhirir Brutyan (Ziro Shaumyansky), Norair Piloyan (Koncho), Suren Avetisyan (Surik Leninakansky), Artem Gazaryan (Artemik Leninakansky), Armen Manukyan (Sevo), Gevork Melikyan (Gevorik Oshakansky), as well as Samvel Arutyunyan (Maneti Tkha Samo) who was already detained recently, Rafael Khotseyan (Afo) – son of other thief-in-law Rafik Khotseyan (Khoi), and many others. Firearms, ammunition, and drugs were found during the searches, and some members of the criminal world have been put under administrative arrest. Later thieves-in-law Andranik Arutyunyan (Ando Khromoi) and Aleksander Makaryan (Alo) were charged with storage of narcotic drugs.
Andranik Arutyunyan (Ando Khromoi)
The enforcement officers have also visited the office of criminal ‘authority’ Artem Arutyunyan (Artem Kanevsky), brother of famous crowned thief Armen Arutyunyan who died in 2010. Artem is not a thief-in-law, but still wields some power in Armenia and outside it.
It is necessary to note that the steps taken by the new authorities are truly unparalleled. Crowned thieves used to live freely in this country. It is not a coincidence that Armenia was chosen from all the other post-Soviet republics to host a global congregation chaired by Shakro Molodoy in 2015. The modest country does not attract foreign thieves-in-law, but the local criminals used to get along with its authorities pretty easily.
Take, for instance, the petition to release from jail local criminal ‘authority’ Alik Banduryan (Alik Noratussky) submitted recently by several Deputies of the Armenian Parliament. He is a suspect in a criminal case pertaining to a double murder committed in a Yerevan beauty salon in November 2016. Initially, the criminal ‘authority’ was charged only with instigation to murder, but later the investigators have laid against him more severe charges accusing Banduryan of infliction of grave injuries within a group of persons.
Alik Banduryan (Alik Noratussky)
In fact, Alik Banduryan and his brother Ara were well-known long before the shooting in the beauty salon. Back in 2003, it was reported that the brothers have wounded two people and killed one with an assault rifle and hunting gun.
Then the name of Alik Banduryan was mentioned in relation to thief-in-law Artem Arutyunyan (Artem Kanevsky): Banduryan was his associate. In 2012, Banduryan and his brother were put on the wanted list by the French law enforcement authorities for abduction of a person within a group.
Of course, the new Armenian authorities could not limit their efforts to the struggle against the criminal world and quickly proceeded from crowned thieves to politicians and power brokers.
On June 16, NSS operatives arrested in Etchmiadzin general Manvel Grigoryan, a Deputy of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, and criminal ‘authority’ Artur Asatryan also known as Don Pipo. This happened immediately after the return of the criminal ‘authority’ from Italy to stage protest rallies against City Mayor Karen Grigoryan – son of the detained Deputy who was, in fact, the ‘shadow ruler’ of the region.
The protest rallies were held using the ‘Velvet Revolution’ symbols – and Pashinyan does not like such district-level political games. The Prime Minister wrote on his Facebook page that it is unacceptable “to allow criminal elements to profane the symbols of the revolution of peace and reconciliation and use the name of the revolution in their mafia wars”. He also added that such arrests are examples of the uncompromising struggle against corruption.
Officially, Grigoryan and Asatryan have been arrested for acquisition and storage of large amounts of firearms and ammunition – but there was plenty of evidence of corruption and unlawful enrichment as well.
The treasures found in numerous country homes of Grigoryan, a hero of the Nagorno-Karabakh War and Head of the Volunteers Union, have shocked the nation. In addition to a large arsenal of weapons – from handguns to explosives and grenade launchers, several hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than 30 vehicles, and a private zoo with tigers and bears, foodstuffs intended for front-line soldiers were discovered in the home of ‘general Manvel’, including foods gathered by schools during the recent conflict escalation in 2016. Canned products, clothes, medicines, etc. were found in bags together with children’s letters to soldiers.
Searches in the home of Grigoryan
In addition to the illegal storage of firearms, Don Pipo is also suspected of abductions. He is well-known not only to the local law enforcement structures who hadn’t cared about him while he was abroad. In 2008, the Italian authorities have arrested Asatryan together with four other Armenian citizens in the framework of a case pertaining to the murder of an associate of Artem Arutyunyan (Artem Kanevsky), who was a henchman of Usoyan in the Krasnodar krai of Russia. In 2013, he was put on the international wanted list in relation to the murder of Ded Khasan.
By the way, the main business of Asatryan is located in Russia. Its primary asset is Danvesta company owning a major chain of sales booths in Moscow. In addition, Don Pipo owns Borogodsky and Panorama trade centers, Cityman Taxi Service, Sergiev Posad Flour Milling Plant, and Shelkovka Farming Enterprise.
Artur Asatryan (Don Pipo)
His son Egiya Asatryan also prefers to run business in Russia; he is mostly involved with agrarian projects.
Since some point, Artur Asatryan has been trying to ‘exonerate’ his name and disassociate himself from the criminal world – at least, in public. To achieve this, he became a philanthropist.
In 2007, he has lobbied the installation of a three-meter khachkar (stone cross) in Rome in the memory of the Armenian Genocide. In 2012, Asatryan has established a charitable fund to support educational and social projects in Armenia and abroad. In 2017, it became known that Don Pipo has reportedly purchased unique documents for the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute from the Vatican secret archive.
Arrest of Don Pipo
However, the new authorities are not interested in his past merits. Furthermore, according to NSS Director Artur Vanetsyan, attempts to neutralize representatives of the current authorities are quite possible. Of course, the primary suspects are members of voluntary groups having military experience and gangsters.
Therefore, in the light of the recent developments, it is better for another prominent representative of the criminal world – thief-in-law Andranik Sogoyan (Zap) – to abstain from returning to Armenia. To refresh background: after being sentenced in absentia by the Prague Court to 22 years behind bars in 2013 for masterminding the murder of an Armenian businessman and put on the international wanted list, Sogoyan has found an asylum at home – the Armenian authorities decided not to extradite him to the Czech Republic. Other crowned thieves believe that such ‘patronage’ could not be provided for free and Zap had to collaborate with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The new authorities may be willing to ask him some more inconvenient questions.
Andranik Sogoyan (in the center)
‘Authoritative’ businessman Ruben Tatulyan (Robson) from Sochi can’t expect to get assistance and support at home as well. Nor may Robson, known for ramming auto barriers with his SUV with diplomatic license plates, flaunt his friendship with supreme governmental functionaries of Armenia anymore – especially taking the current situation of “deeply respected by him” Serzh Sargsyan. No one is going to take into account his past achievements. Despite his membership in Investors Club of Armenia, Tatulyan is under American sanctions. In late 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has designated him a member of so-called ‘Brothers’ Circle’ of international criminals, thus, equating Robson with thieves-in-law Shakro Molodoy, Vasya Voskres, Pichuga, Tyurik, etc.
At that time, the Armenian authorities have shrugged him off by stating that Tatulyan used to be a freelance advisor for the Minister of Foreign Affairs but does not possess this status anymore.
Robson (1) and Ded Khasan (3)
In the meantime, in their struggle against the organized crime, the law enforcement structures have approached the top figures in the former system of power. The first person in this list – after ‘general Manvel’ – is Vachagan Kazaryan, ex-Deputy Head of the Protection Service of Serzh Sargsyan, also know as Serzhevsky Vacho.
In the course of searches in a Yerevan nightclub belonging to him, the operatives have found over $1.5 million in cash. A similar amount was found during searches in his home. A few days later, Kazaryan was arrested while exiting the bank where he has just cashed $1 million and intended to cash $3.2 million more. He was unable to explain the origin of the money.
Arrest of Vachagan Kazaryan
Concurrently with his arrest, the Investigative Committee of Armenia has reported the institution of a criminal case against GLG Project Company belonging to ex-President’s brother Levon Sargsyan for tax evasion and premeditated bankruptcy. As a result of its operations, the Armenian treasury fell short of more than $1.5 million.
Later the NSS has searched residences of Levon’s son Narek Sargsyan. In one of his apartments, the investigators found deposit agreements with a bank totaling $6.8 million. The agreements had been made in the second half of 2016 by Levon Sargsyan and daughter Ani Sargsyan. In 2017, the President’s brother was a roving ambassador and had to disclose this sum in his declarations. A criminal case has been instituted for non-disclosure of assets and unlawful enrichment.
Serzh Sargsyan awards a medal to his brother
Later the policemen have visited the residence of the ex-President’s nephew again and found some more serious evidence, including weapons, drugs, and stolen paintings.
On June 25, Aleksander Sargsyan, a younger brother of the former President, also known as Sashik Sargsyan or Sashik 50%, has been arrested in Yerevan on suspicion of illegal possession of firearms. It is easy to imagine the origin of this nickname given to a person aggressively offering partnership to all more or less successful businessmen in the country. His companies – Security Dream and Ellips – suspected of illegal financial operations have been searched as well.
Arrest of Sashik Sargsyan
Later Aleksander Sargsyan has been released without any charges, and the police said that he had legitimately possessed firearms.
However, rumors have been circulated for a while in Armenia about the ties between Sashik Sargsyan and the criminal world – in particular, with Armen Kazaryan (Pzo) serving as an intermediary between the President's brother on the one hand and ‘Armenian mafia' and Russian thieves-in-law on the other hand.
While being an opposition activist, Artashes Gegamyan, currently a member of the Republican Party of Armenia, used to share with journalists other criminal affairs of the ex-President’s brother as well.
According to Gegamyan, Sashik had jointly co-owned gas stations obtained thanks to Robert Kocharyan with another Armenian oligarch – Gagik Tsarukyan. Sashik reportedly wanted to eliminate Tsarukyan and masterminded an assassination attempt against his partner. Then-President Robert Kocharyan managed to reconcile the assassin’s paymaster and his intended victim. Still, Sashik is known for dispatching his competitors. Gegamyan claims that Aleksander Sargsyan was involved into the murder of criminal ‘authority’ Musheg Azatyan (Misha Pitersky), a former co-owner of Hrazdan Concrete Plant.
It is necessary to note the allegations of Serzh Sargsyan’s criminal connections as well. In early 2017, Armenian blogger Artsruni Avetisyan has published a video supposedly showing the future President of Armenia feasting with thief-in-law Aslan Usoyan and other criminals.
Based on the provided date, the feast had taken place on May 28, 1993 – and in August 1993, Sargsyan was appointed the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia.
In fact, the best example for new Armenia and other post-Soviet states is adjacent Georgia where President Mikhail Saakashvili managed to drastically reduce the influence of the criminal world on the country living, which is still considered his main achievement. But to do so, he had to reform the entire system of power as well.
Serzh Sargsyan (on the left) in the 1990s
The reforms were not supposed to be limited to prison terms for the thievish status and new police uniform. Apparently, this is why the recent police reform in Ukraine is stalled. Not to speak of Russia where the militia was just renamed into police without any real changes. Would Pashinyan and his team be able to achieve victory? A lot depends on his goals and methods he uses. Otherwise, all his efforts would look like self-promotion through defamation of the former authorities. Early parliamentary elections are forthcoming, and the Prime Minister hopes to get even more Deputies loyal to him than now. It is premature yet to conclude whether the current events are the beginning of system changes in the country or just a trivial persecution of former political rivals.
Armenia is on the verge of an important historical juncture – either Pashinyan overcomes the situation, or the situation overcomes him.
On September 21, kingpin Vladimir Vagin, aka Vagon, hanged himself. Two years earlier another thief in law Max Pioner also committed suicide. Vagon's lawyer does not believe in the version of suicide and intends to apply for a forensic medical examination.