Monday, November 29, 2004

California Courier On-Line


Neither Courts nor Officials Care
That We Were Defrauded in Armenia

By K. George Najarian and
Carolann S. Najarian, M.D.

We would like to relate a sad, but true account of what we have experienced within Armenia's legal system over this past year.

Let us first introduce ourselves: our humanitarian efforts in Armenia and Artsakh have spanned nearly 16 years. Our projects began after the earthquake and during the Artsakh liberation war and continue through today, with more than 50 trips to Armenia, the delivery of millions of dollars of medical supplies to both regions; the establishment of the Primary Care Center in Gyumri (1994) and the Arpen Center for Expectant Mothers in Artsakh (1995); hospital renovations; and many other efforts, including the rebuilding of Tsitsernavank, the 4th c. basilica in Kashatagh (Lachine corridor), assistance to villagers, invalids, veterans, orphans, and schools. Our work has been carried out through the Armenian Health Alliance, Inc. and its supporters as well as through our own private funds.

In response to the Armenian government's pleas to the Diaspora to invest in Armenia, George undertook a project with a young man whom he met after the earthquake and with whom he subsequently became a friend. (We even brought him to Boston to have surgical correction of his infertility for which we paid; he now has two children, thanks to us!)

In 1996, after a year of prodding George to finance a business venture, they opened a photo shop as partners - he did the work and George paid for everything. He also introduced George to various people with other business propositions. One introduction led to our purchase of two parcels of land in the Ethnographic Center at Tzorakugh with spectacular views of Ararat. Throughout this time this 'friend' presented himself to us as an honest person, thankful for the assistance we had given to him and wanting to help George in whatever way he could.

This 'friend' was George's representative, not partner, in the development of these two parcels of land. Thus, he had Power of Attorney to represent George in his absence. However, he used this Power of Attorney to fraudulently privatize in his name these lands and our two newly constructed buildings, in effect expropriating our substantial investment. When we understood what he had done, with the hope of avoiding a legal battle, we tried to negotiate with him for the return of the properties. This failed, despite offers of significant sums of money.

Without any other recourse open to us and based on the advice of legal experts in Armenia, we filed a criminal case against him, first with the Yerevan City Prosecutor's Office (September, 2003) and later with the Prosecutor General of Armenia's office (March, 2004).

We had assumed the facts in the case were obvious -- "open and shut" -- given the evidence of scores of witnesses, bank documents, receipts, etc. We had not anticipated that our 'friend' would enlist the help of well-connected persons in the government who could influence the case through bribes and whatever other means available to them, including intimidating witnesses and threatening lives. In December, 2003, after a long but superficial investigation, the Yerevan City Prosecutor's Office dismissed the case and referred us to civil court. (We suspected the prosecutor had been bribed but could not prove it.) On appeal, the case was reopened at the Prosecutor General level. This time prosecutors agreed we were the victims of fraud. They also found that the 'friend' was guilty of tax evasion. Attempts were again made to hijack the case through dismissal at this point but failed. While the Yerevan City Prosecutor who previously dismissed the case admitted during a meeting at the General Prosecutor's Office, in George's presence, that he made a mistake by dismissing the case, the current prosecutors said that the evidence was too powerful to dismiss, and sent the case to the next phase within the criminal process -- that of acquiring evidence for the trial.

Two investigators were assigned the task of preparing the evidence for trial: witnesses were repeatedly called and subjected to hours of interrogation; George returned to Armenia again to testify - this time for more than 40 hours; and, documents were requested and provided by us for a third time. Again, the investigation dragged on for months and despite mountains of evidence supporting our claims, and little on the other side supporting his claim of ownership, the two investigators doing the work dismissed the case! Their decision, a shabby, crude, and even absurd document completely ignored or marginalized important evidence supporting our claims and falsified facts --openly. We were again referred to civil court. We had information that these investigators were following orders from persons within the government who stand to benefit from expropriating these properties from us.

Prominent legal minds in Armenia, including experts within the government, have advised us that this is a criminal case of fraud punishable under Armenian law. Similar cases, with less evidence, have been fully prosecuted by the Prosecutor General's Office. The attempt to move us into civil court is an attempt to kill the case completely.
Under Armenian law, we have no civil case because there is no partnership agreement between the parties - we were not partners with this 'friend.'

It pains us to tell you we did not find an objective, fair justice system in Armenia, but instead we have seen the inside of a system wrought with deceit and corruption that crushes even their own when they try to resist. During this past year, in addition to our direct appeals, others, including a high ranking member of the Armenian government, have appealed repeatedly for a fair and objective hearing of our case to persons within the judicial system and to President Kocharian himself.

The US Embassy is fully aware of the circumstances of our case as are a number of US congressmen who have written to the Armenian ambassador in Washington expressing concern over the conduct of our case - judicial processes must be open and fair otherwise investors will be leery of undertaking investment risk in Armenia.

It is impossible to recount all that we have been through this past year. It has been an emotional roller coaster as we faced the fact that persons within this government would participate in this humiliating and base fraud against us. It appears due process of law and the protection of rights and investments are still fragile concepts for the government of Armenia. As we understand other Diasporans have encountered similar problems and have been treated in this same manner. We hope with our case being made public there will be a willingness to discuss these critical issues, and the Armenian government will take the necessary steps to clean up corruption: the judiciary should not exist to guarantee people in power wealth. It is no way to build a country!

Writing about our ordeal is a very painful step taken reluctantly after one year of struggling to get a fair hearing of our case. Although we are still in the appeal process, we understand that our property - including the place where we anticipated living out our retirement years - has been taken from us. What you are not seeing, though, are the tears we have shed over knowing that we may never be able to return to Armenia, to live and continue our work, and knowing not only has our property been expropriated, but we as people who have loved and worked for the good of Armenia and its people have been so dishonestly treated.

The pain goes very deep.

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