Armenia: Panama Papers Prompts Official's Resignation
In an unprecedented move, Mihran Poghosian, a senior Armenian official named in the Panama Papers’ corruption exposé, resigned from office on April 18. His stated reason, though, was not the accusations against him, but, apparently, a more patriotic one – the dishonor of sharing press space alongside Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
In an explanation sent to Armenian media outlets, Poghosian described himself as “saddened that my name is being raised alongside the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, who has actually privatized millions of dollars,” according to an English-language translation of his comments published by RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I find it unacceptable that I might be the reason for any possible civilized parallel to be drawn between my country and dictatorial Azerbaijan.”
While the four-day conflict with Azerbaijan along the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline remains the hottest topic in Armenia, Poghosian’s resignation astonished many. Armenian media has reported before about corruption among senior government officials, but not with such a result.
“Is this a sign that something is changing in this country?” asked Yerevan resident Naira Soghomonian, 31. “Or is this another way of distracting people from the truth? Anyway, who would have thought . . .?”
Civil activist Syuzan Simonian, founder of the Front of Armenian Women, suspects the resignation is intended to quiet potential frustration with the government.
Recent protests have expressed outrage against Russia, Yerevan's closest ally, for selling arms to Azerbaijan as well as to Armenia; another is planned for April 19. Public scandal over a senior official with a Swiss bank account and three offshore businesses only opens the government to further criticism at a sensitive time.
Simonian maintains that, to distract the public, the government could come up with several more "victims" as well, while Poghosian would be allowed to fade quietly away.
"His possessions are offshore [registered in Panama – ed], and he will move there, and we will not find a trace of him anymore,” she asserted. “We need to present a public demand that he is not allowed to leave the country. “
Poghosian did not appear in public after Hetq.am published its story on April 4, but stated today that he would respond to the accusations against him “as a civilian . . . “
Hetq.am Editor-in-Chief Edik Baghdasarian characterized Poghosian’s patriotic outburst as “ridiculous,” yet said that he did not expect his resignation.
“I consider this a victory for Armenian media.” Baghdasarian commented to EurasiaNet.org. “In fact, there are numerous questions which need to be answered still, and the case should not be closed by a resignation. There is material to disclose, and we must see what steps will follow next.”
Like Simonian, Stepan Safarian, head of the Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs, believes that many other high-ranked Armenian officials might feature in the so-called Panamagate scandal.
“In a small country like Armenia, where the state monitors everything, all types of capital movement, millions of dollars could not have gone [into an offshore account] without the knowledge of the senior administration,” he claimed.
The government, so far, has not commented about Poghosian's resignation.