Panama Offshore Story Continues in Armenia: Investigative Journalists - NGO Goes to Court

Mihran_Poghosyan_Kilde_Compulsory Enforcement Service

Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) dropped the offshore business case against former Chief Compulsory Enforcement Service Officer Mihran Poghosyan in January this year.

Writen by Kristine Agalaryan* (photograph on the right) 

The Chief Compulsory Enforcement Officer is in charge of seeing that all court rulings are properly enforced; a job that requires an extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of Armenia’s laws, rules and regulations.

Nevertheless, Major General of Justice Mihran Poghosyan, Armenia’s former Chief Compulsory Enforcement Officer, was one of the country’s officials who had sown deep roots in offshore economic zones.

While his companies registered in those zones operated, Poghosyan used his position to advance his business interests, all the while concealing his income.

The SIS says that its investigation into the offshore business interests of Poghosyan failed to reveal any incriminatory evidence of wrongdoing.

Exposed by Panama Papers

The Armenian investigative journalist collective in Hetq wrote about the Poghosyan’s shady financial dealings in Panama and his Swiss banks accounts in April 2016, after data was uncovered in the Panama Papers. The data was obtained by the German newspaper SüddeutscheZeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and more than 110 media partners from 82 countries, including Hetq.

The SIS reported to Hetq that on January 11, 2017, Switzerland had turned down its request for legal assistance in the case. No details were given. The SIS also alleged that it had not received any word from Panama regarding its request for legal assistance in the Poghosyan investigation.

The criminal case filed against Poghosyan by the SIS has stalled ever since the April 2016 revelations regarding Poghosyan’s offshore business activities. Poghosyan resigned soon afterwards but always affirmed that he was not involved in any offshore business deals.

"The request had not been fulfilled..."

SIS Press Secretary Marina Ohanjanyan told Hetq that the decision to drop the case against Poghosyan was reached after the SIS ‘conveniently’ announced the rejections of legal assistance by Switzerland and Panama.

However, the Swiss Federal Department of Justice told Hetq and its partner OCCRP that they turned down the Armenian request for legal assistance on November 8, 2016 because the requirements of the request were not fulfilled.

But "the Armenian authorities can any time specify the request," the email from Ingrid Ryser, a spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Department of Justice added.

In 2017 parliamentary elections of Armenia Mihran Pogosyan was elected as a parliament member which gave him political immunity, he was appointed by the ruling party (Republicans) in Armenia.

Unable to provide information in the public interest

On September 4, a Yerevan court rejected a suit filed by the Investigative Journalists NGO to force the Special Investigative Service (SIS) to hand over a copy of its decision to drop a criminal investigation into the offshore business interests of Mihran Poghosyan, a former head of the country’s Compulsory Enforcement Service.

Last January the SIS, quoting Article 262, Part 1, of Armenia’s Criminal Procedure Code, said that copies of a decision to drop or halt criminal proceedings are sent to the suspect, the accused, the defense lawyer, the injured party or their representative, the civil plaintiff/defendant, or their representative.

According to the law, a copy is also sent to an individual or legal entity upon whose statement the criminal investigation was launched in the first place. The SIS argued that the Investigative Journalists NGO (which publishes Hetq) cannot be provided a copy of the decision since the news outlet is none of the above.

The NGOs lawyers, in their suit, argued that Hetq requested the copy in order to carry out its mission to provide information in the public interest.

Poghosyan resigned from his post at the Compulsory Enforcement Service in April 2016, but always maintained he was not involved in any offshore business deals.

Investigative Journalists appealed this case to the Court of Appeals. The new hearings have been scheduled for this month.


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* This article was written by Kristine Agalaryan (upper-right photograph) and is part of a project "It happens overnight" funded by Fritt Ord.