Armenian separatist Vardanyan made huge fortune prior to political activities
    Article by Intelligence Online

    REGION  18 June 2024 - 17:28

    The controversial figure of Armenian businessman Ruben Vardanyan, who is awaiting trial in Azerbaijan, appears to be the catalyst for a wave of separate suspected influence campaigns stemming from Russia, Azerbaijan, the United States and France.

    Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's cabinet is trying to keep track of the opposition's movements as protestors continue to call for Pashinyan's resignation in demonstrations that on 12 June alone resulted in dozens of injuries, France-based Intelligence Online reports.

    Intelligence Online understands that Pashinyan's security detail is particularly concerned with the role businessman Ruben Vardanyan could play in unifying the Armenian diaspora. They are especially concerned about his impact in the United States and France, where advocates for the opposition are the most vocal.

    Vardanyan was arrested by Azerbaijan border guard service last September and is currently being held behind bars in Azerbaijan awaiting trial. His case has now been postponed to this October. The wealthy businessman was only recently labelled as a political opponent in Armenia.

    Speculation from all fronts

    Pashinyan's team is keeping a lookout for pockets of support for Vardanyan, especially in his Russian networks. The prime minister's inner circle is concerned about Russian backing of the opposition. Though Vardanyan very publicly renounced his Russian nationality in September 2022, he still has a strong network of business connections in the country. In late 2020, he and his wife Veronika Zonabend opened a business club and events space, Noôdome, in Moscow. Zonabend replaced him as the majority shareholder of his businesses in Russia when he left the country in late 2022.

    On the Azerbaijan side, Baku is more concerned with support from France and the United States. The organisation Free Armenian Prisoners, which has been fighting for Vardayan's release and that of 22 other Armenians held behind bars, is backed by Edelman Global Advisory, the Washington office of PR magnate Richard Edelman's New York firm Edelman. In late April, Aze.media, a news outlet that relays the Azerbaijan government's press releases, posted an article entitled Scenario of absurdity: How Vardanyan's PR is scaling up and what's the role of American Edelman.

    A mixed reputation

    Before becoming active in politics and undertaking philanthropic endeavours in Armenia, Vardanyan built a vast fortune in Russian. In the early 1990s, he opened the now folded Russian investment bank Troika Dialog, which he ran until it was sold and absorbed into SberBank. Leaked banking records in 2019 revealed a scheme set up by Troika Dialog between 2006 and 2013, dubbed the Troika Laundromat, by which the bank had channelled money out of Russia via tax havens and Lithuania.

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