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Armenia fugitive nabbed in fake diamond deal

A businessman who told a bank that his partners in a phony diamond processing operation were Armenia's prime minister and archbishop was arrested Friday in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on charges of money laundering.

Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan and Archbishop Navasard Kjoyan denied signing documents submitted to the bank, and the prime minister has ordered an investigation. Ashot Sukiasyan -- the archbishop's godson -- had fled Armenia and evaded capture for 18 months.

The money laundering charges against him relate to a $10.7 million bank loan to Wlispera Holding Ltd., registered in Cyprus.

The prime minister and archbishop were named on bank documents as one-third owners of Wlispera, along with Sukiasyan.

The loan came from AmeriaBank. It's based in Armenia but registered in Cyprus.

Armenian news source Hetq received a statement from Sukiasyan while he was on the run, saying the prime minister and archbishop were not his partners in the offshore business. He also emailed the prosecutor general, admitting he added their names to the Wlispera documents.

The prime minister and the archbishop haven't been questioned by authorities in the case.

While the loan was in the name of Wlispera and its subsidiary, A.B.S. Global Ltd., most of the money first went to the AmeriaBank account of a private company owned by Sukiasyan, his wife and daughter. 

Police have questioned two employees from AmeriaBank.


Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.