By Naira Bulghadarian
A former diplomat and his son running Armenia’s leading classical music orchestra were arrested at the weekend on fraud charges denied by them.
The accusations stem from the privatization in 2012 of a 300-square-meter plot of land in downtown Yerevan by a company allegedly controlled by Armen Smbatyan, a former Armenian ambassador to Israel and Russia, and Sergei Smbatyan, the artistic director and chief conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra.
According to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the company bought the land for 170 million drams (now equivalent to $435,000) in return for a pledge to build a cultural center there as well as a new concert hall and central heating system for an adjacent music school It constructed a 17-story office building instead, causing the state almost 1 billion drams ($2.6 million) in “damage,” the law-enforcement agency claimed in a statement.
A court in Yerevan promptly agreed to remand both men in pre-trial custody. Their lawyer, Yervand Varosyan, dismissed the “absurd” charges on Monday, likening them to an “artistic work transcending all bounds of imagination.” Varosyan also argued that the Armenian statute of limitations for the crime allegedly committed by the Smbatyans has expired.
The prosecutors also implicated Hasmik Poghosyan, a fugitive former culture minister, in the alleged fraud. They said that Poghosyan, who served as minister from 2006-2016, gave the green light to the privatization deal despite being aware of the Smbatyans’ real intentions.