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Yerevan Officials Deny Links With U.S.-Armenian 'Godfather'

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian
YEREVAN -- Authorities in Yerevan have brushed aside allegations made by opposition media that President Serzh Sarkisian has been in close relations with the purported ringleader of an American-Armenian criminal syndicate busted last week over a large-scale medical insurance fraud, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Armen Kazarian, 46, nicknamed Pzo, was among dozens of immigrants with substantial ties to Armenia charged with filing some $100 million in fake claims to a government health insurance program in what amounted to one of the biggest fraud cases in the U.S. medical sector in recent history.

The indictment in the United States identifies Kazarian as "vor v zakone," in Russian, or a thief in the law -- a powerful figure in the criminal underworld of the former Soviet Union.

"This is a ridiculous and far-fetched allegation which is millions of kilometers away from being true. No such thing is possible and there isn’t any such thing," Edward Sharmazanov, a spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told RFE/RL today following the media reports.

The ruling party also said it was infuriated by the allegation made at an October 15 public rally of the opposition in Yerevan that Kazarian "managed the work of a number of criminal elements in the struggle against [opposition leader] Levon Ter-Petrossian" during the disputed 2008 presidential election won by Sarkisian.

"The authorities of Armenia, in particular Serzh Sarkisian, neither had such a problem nor have it now. I do not treat those statements seriously; they have nothing to do with reality," the HHK spokesman added.

Also today, the office of former President Robert Kocharian denied opposition claims he had links to Kazarian.

"Naturally, I deny such claims and it is not the first time I do so," Kocharian office manager Viktor Soghomonian told RFE/RL.

Soghomonian also denied the opposition claims that Kazarian attended the wedding of Kocharian’s son Sedrak.

"I’ve even received a photo and a request to identify [Pzo], but it was a completely different person in the photograph," he added.

On October 15, law-enforcement authorities in Armenia said they had not yet been contacted by U.S. federal investigators in connection with the October 13 arrests in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere in the country.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan said "corresponding bodies in Armenia are ready, if necessary, to cooperate with their American counterparts and assist in the investigation."