Russia detains leading Armenian philanthropist
Levon Hairapetian faces charges related to 2009 oil company deal, denies wrongdoing
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Wednesday July 16, 2014
|Levon Ayrapetyan met President Obama in 2012. Courtesy image|
WASHINGTON - A leading Russian Armenian businessman and benefactor, who has spent tens of millions aiding Armenian causes in recent years, has been detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on his arrival at a Moscow airport on July 15, Russian media reported the next day. Hairapetian reportedly arrived in Moscow from Yerevan for scheduled medical treatment.
According to sources in the Russian government cited by Rosbalt and Kommersant, Levon Hairapetian's detention stems from the testimony by a former Russian senator Igor Izmestyev, who since 2010 has been serving a life prison sentence. Izmestyev reportedly pointed to Hairapetian's involved in the "financial machinations" around the 2009 sale of the Bashneft oil company.
According to RBC, a business news agency, AFK Sistema, a large Russian business holdings, purchased the majority control of Bashneft, at the time owned by the government of Bashkir Republic, for over $2 billion.
[UPDATE: On July 24, Hairapetian was formally charged with receiving a $50 million fee as part of the Bashneft deal, something that government investigators now consider illegal. Hairapetian denies any wrongdoing.
Investigators have also questioned Sistema's billionaire owner Vladimir Yevtushenkov, who has in turn described the situation as an attempt by the state to grab Bashneft after devaluing its stocks.
Later in the year, after Yevtushenkov agreed to transfer Bashneft's control to the Russian government, most of the charges against Yevtushenkov and Hairapetian were dropped.]
Over the past decade, the Russian government has prosecuted a number of prominent businessmen in what many observers regarded as politically-motivated campaigns.
Hairapetian is known to be a citizen of Armenia, Russia, as well as the United States.
In the days since his detention, leaders of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, several prominent figures in Armenia and Diaspora, including Russian community leader Ara Abrahamian and singer Charles Aznavour, have urged the Russian government to release Hairapetian, 65 and a diabetic, pending the investigation. But on investigators' recommendation, a Moscow court has declined bail and sanctioned a two-month pre-trial detention for Hairapetian.
Born in Vank in Artsakh's Mardakert district in 1949, Hairapetian attended the Yerevan State University before graduating from the philosophy faculty and graduate school of the Moscow State University. After spending 11 years working in the oil sector in the Siberian city of Tyumen, Hairapetian became a correspondent for leading Soviet print media throughout the 1980s, rising to head the Sobesednik media holding that he continues to own.
Hairapetian is believed to have amassed a fortune in the Russian energy privatization deals of the 1990s. He has enjoyed warm relations with powerful politicians, including the late Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was prime minister from 1992 to 1999, another former prime minister Sergey Kiriyenko, who now heads the Russian nuclear energy agency, and the current foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
In recent years, Hairapetian has split his time between Russia, Armenia, France and the United States.
Paying the "genetic tax"
In TV interviews, Hairapetian has semi-jokingly referred to his involvement in Armenian causes as paying a "genetic tax" of gratitude to the land of his ancestors. He traces his paternal lineage to the Armenian princely family of Hassan-Jalalians, an offshoot of the Bagratuni royal family, who ruled Artsakh since the Middle Ages. On his mother's side, Hairapetian is also a grand-nephew of the prominent 20th century Armenian political and military figure Garegin Njdeh.
Since the 1990s, Hairapetian invested in the educational, cultural, tourist and industrial infrastructure in his native Vank, including the restoration of the Gandzasar Cathedral, as well as the 1998 restoration of the Shushi Kazanchetsots Cathedral. Hairapetian has also been a leading supporter of the Hayastan Fund infrastructure projects, pledging more than $7 million between 2007 and 2012.
In 2008, together with other leading Russian Armenian businessmen, like Ruben Vardanyan, Daniil Khachaturov and Sergey Sarkisov, Hairapetian co-sponsored 700 weddings in Artsakh, subsequently became a godfather to 250 newborns and pledged long-term support for the young families. The project is intended to encourage population growth in Artsakh.
Last May, Levon Hairapetian contributed $300,000 to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) during its fundraising telethon; it was the single largest donation.
At the same time, Hairapetian has in recent years repeatedly criticized the Armenian government for its failure to credibly crackdown on corruption and tax evasion.
For a Shant TV profile of Hairapetian in Armenian link to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqcMBn5wRzo.
[Since his arrest, a Facebook page has been established in support of Hairapetian, here https://www.facebook.com/FreeLevonHayrapetyan]