Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
7 December 2004

Diaspora Armenian Seeks Fraud Case Against Yerevan Partner

By Anna Saghabalian

A prominent Armenian-American who has helped to ship millions of dollars worth of medical supplies to Armenia pleaded with a Yerevan court on Tuesday to press fraud charges against his former local partner who has allegedly misappropriated his expensive property.

George Najarian asked the court through his legal representatives to order state prosecutors to reopen a criminal case against the formal owner of a photo shop and two buildings currently constructed in central Yerevan.

Najarian maintains that he is the real owner of the property which he says was registered in the name of the man, Grigor Igitian, in 1996 because Armenian law at the time banned foreign nationals from owning land. Subsequent legal amendments allowed authorities not to apply the ban to ethnic Armenian foreigners with long-term residency permits.

Najarian accuses Igitian of breaking his pledge to give up the lucrative assets, in which he claims to have invested $500,000, once the restriction was dropped. “We are now trying to find out what happened to my client’s investments,” his lawyer, Ashot Poghosian, said at the start of court proceedings.

Igitian denies the accusations, saying that he invested more than Najarian did. However, it is unclear how the former English-language interpreter and university lecturer could have raised so much money.

The prosecutors tried to find answers to this question in two separate inquiries. However, in both cases they avoided bringing criminal accusations. Prosecutors attending the first court session declined a comment.

Najarian, meanwhile, suspects that the investigators were bribed by his former partner. “We had information that these investigators were following orders from persons within the government who stand to benefit from expropriating these properties from us,” the businessman and his wife Carolann wrote in a recent article published by Armenian-American newspapers.

The couple added that an unspecified “high-ranking member of the Armenian government” has asked President Robert Kocharian to ensure “a fair and objective hearing of our case” but to no avail. “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,” they said.

The Najarians have been active in promoting and providing assistance to the healthcare sectors of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh for the past 15 years. Their lawsuit is a rare example of Diasporan Armenians publicly voicing their grievances against Armenian authorities. Diasporans doing business in Armenia often complain about widespread corruption but most of them choose not to go public.

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