I recently got an email asking me about my family’s holdings from a journalist formerly associated with an Azerbaijani think tank and claiming to be acting on information from his Armenian colleagues. In the interest of transparency, I am placing my response in the public domain.
As you know, or should know, I resigned from political office almost exactly two years ago. It is puzzling that you should choose to expend valuable resources on targeting me in retirement as well as members of my family (private individuals who have never held any public roles) with questions fed by others that are in fact based on information that is wholly in the public domain. Yet, out of respect for the mission of the OCCRP, I am taking the time to write this letter to you in response.
My sister, Karine, is a highly distinguished cardiologist. Holding a PhD in medical studies, she is a founder of Armenia’s first and most prestigious open-heart surgery clinic that has saved countless lives since its establishment. She has worked at a number of prestigious institutions in Armenia and abroad. In the 1990s, she represented major international pharmaceutical companies. It speaks to her brilliance as an individual that she was able to practice medicine and navigate the world of business equally successfully. I mention all of this as a proud sibling.
In the 1990s, as I went from being a scientist to a public figure, I made the decision to entrust my wealth — earned from developing software and video games — to my sister. My duties, first as a diplomat and later (briefly) as Prime Minister of Armenia, demanded absolute dedication. My choice, which is not an uncommon practice for people entering public life, was vindicated when I was diagnosed in 1997 with terminal illness and went into intense therapy. It was my sister who, as executioner of my estate, looked after my family: my wife, my two young boys, and my elderly mother. Karine remained the ultimate beneficiary of the companies founded by me. These companies, involved in a range of investments — in hi-tech, IT, telecoms, infrastructure, electricity distribution, among others — were run by professional managers, and advised and audited by major international law firms and auditors. Some of them were held by companies based in the British Virgin Islands — this was a completely standard set of arrangements for managing wealth on which professional advice and expertise was received.
It is largely with the proceeds of these investments that the properties you mention were bought. They were not initially purchased at their current high values, and they were certainly not worth “tens of millions of pounds,” as you state. The purchase of some of the property was in fact financed by a bank loan. The appreciation of their value over the years suggests smart investment rather than, as you seem to imply, extravagant expenditure. In 2022, after I retired from politics, and as she was approaching her 70s, my sister gifted two properties to my sons while continuing to own the remainder.
As for myself, barring a brief pro bono stint as Armenia’s ambassador to the UK in 1999, I was a private citizen from 1997 to 2013. In those 16 years, I advised major global organizations such as EBRD, Bank of America / Merrill Lynch, BP, Alcatel, and Telefonica, to name a few. I was very well-compensated for my work and paid all taxes that were due on my income in a timely fashion.
In 2013, when I accepted the government of Armenia’s invitation to return as the country’s ambassador to the UK, I again worked without pay. In fact, I financed the refurbishment of the embassy, and equipped it with new computers and cars at my own officially registered residence of expense. The address in Chelsea, where I lived, became the ambassador and thus part of the Armenian mission — that is where we received important delegations, including heads of state, members of British parliament, and Armenian government officials. It was common knowledge and a matter of public record that the Armenian ambassador’s residence was situated in a family-owned building, saving the government substantial expenses in lease. Furthermore, in my four years as President of Armenia, I did not live in an official residence and my salary was donated to charity. I lived in my son’s house in Yerevan and paid all the expenses, which were not insubstantial, out of my own pocket. If press reports are to be believed, the upkeep of the senior leadership of Armenia costs the Armenian exchequer 90,000 US dollars a month. On this basis, it looks like I saved the Armenian taxpayer upwards of four million US dollars during my presidency and around a million US dollars while serving as ambassador.
You ask me if I have ever lived in any of the houses owned by my family, and why I chose to register Eurasia House — my non-profit organization which helped to educate hundreds of young Armenians at Cambridge and other universities — there. I find it odd to have to explain why I lived in a house owned by my sister. For more than 30 years, my sister lived in my house in Yerevan. But we never looked at it that way. Perhaps it is our culture. We are a family. Our children and siblings live with us and we live with them. Moreover, my sister is the executioner of my will (and I of hers).
Lastly, you point out in your emails to my sister and my son, Hayk, that the company he founded and manages (and in which the family initially invested) once existed in a different form. It’s not clear what you are suggesting because the company’s website clearly states that it “was originally part of a family office that has investment and operational experience in Eurasia for over 30 years in various sectors.” I hope this helps you in uncovering any history that is not already available on the company’s website.
In any case, you will appreciate that it is difficult to discern from your multiple emails exactly what you wish to allege, particularly as you appear to confirm that I had no declarable interest during my time in office.
Your emails have come just as my new book The Small States Club, published only weeks ago, is receiving international attention and provoking extensive discussion. My book looks at the sources of success of such small states as Estonia, Ireland, Singapore, Botswana, Qatar, Switzerland, and the UAE, among others. The book’s last chapter examines the reasons why Armenia has not been able to join this group in the past three decades: namely, absence of a clear vision and fundamental freedoms, misgovernance, corruption, and the pretension of upholding the values of democracy. Is the timing of all this a coincidence? I generally do not believe much in coincidences, but I am willing to accept that it might be.
I hope that the above clarifies matters. If, however, you have any further questions for me (or related to members of my family), please get in touch with my family’s lawyer.
In the interest of transparency and because I have nothing to hide, I am placing this letter in the public domain via my channels of communication.