WHERE DID ALL THE GOLD GO
Gold is an extremely scarce commodity. The amount of gold extracted over the past 6,000 years could fit into two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Almost three quarters of all of the world’s gold deposits have already been exhausted.614 Due to increasing demand for jewellery, electronics and financial instruments the world now consumes more gold than ever before, leading to the production of 3,000 tonnes per year,615 twice what was produced in 1970.
Diminishing supply and increasing demand, combined with criminal and armed groups’ quest for new sources of illicit revenue, has contributed to a surge in legal and illegal extraction.
Due to instability in the global market place, the price of gold has risen to its highest historical levels. Between 2000 to 2010, the price increased over 300%616 and has continued to rise.
In 1994 Armenia officially produced just 100 kilos of gold.617 By 2016, this had risen to 3,140 kilos. Armenia’s gold production data remains active in CEIC and is reported by the United States Geological Survey.618 Since 2012, official production had ranged consistently between 3,000 and 4,000 kilos. This is dwarfed in production by the world’s largest gold producer, China, which mined 463.7 tonnes in 2016.619
Yet that is not to say the sector is not highly lucrative. At least for some.
Corruption has become institutionalised at Armenia’s Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources. It is almost impossible to obtain licences from the Ministry without making payments to certain officials, while the same officials are expected to provide preferential treatment to companies owned by the political elite, or with indirect connections to them.
This apparent conflict of interest, the ministry providing licenses to firms with direct or close family ties to the President and Prime Minister, has not been considered an issue since independence. The 2001 assassination of Gagik Poghosyan (on the photo, right), then Special Advisor and head of the Prime Minister’s Oversight Service, made sure of that.620 Poghosyan at the time was conducting an investigation into the transparency of the mining industry in Armenia, and looking into its murky ownership, when he was murdered at his home with a grenade, a crime that was never fully investigated by the authorities.
As countries rich in natural resources develop their extractive industries, some invariably have come to face the problem of the resource curse.621 Identified by social scientists as the phenomenon of poor economic performance and weak governance, this has confronted countries endowed with natural resources such as oil, gas, gold and minerals. Policymakers, academics and economists have been busy attempting to address the source of this phenomenon.
Poghosyan’s crime was that he knew exactly what was going on.
In the case of mining in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, loss of revenue contributes to the phenomenon of resource curse, which can be traced to two culprits: corruption and revenue leakage. The corruption was obvious and institutionalised through the Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources, parcelling out mining rights according to prevailing political mood and contacts.
What was just as invidious was the revenue leakage, inadequate legal instruments and enforcement mechanisms for tax collection, and the inexplicable fiscal arrangements for mineral exploration and exploitation.
For most mines in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a royalty is levied by the resource owner, in theory the state, for the extraction of minerals. Most royalty deals in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are levied on an ad valorem basis, a percentage of value. Across the world ad valorem royalties are by far the most common.
What is less common are the lax deals negotiated by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources in Yerevan and the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Nature Protection and Natural Resources in Stepanakert.
Ad valorem royalty rates generally fall in the range of anything up to 9%. In Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh the rate can be as low as 4%. Even worse is the benchmark against which this percentage is calculated. Setting the royalty base against net smelter return is far lower than a royalty base set against value of metal contained in ore at the mine mouth, at international reference prices.622
Ad valorem at a low percentage, based upon net smelter return, has long been the industry standard for deals cast in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Yerevan and Stepanakert have, along with the likes of Peru and South Africa, also maintained, on paper, a variable rate royalty system that is linked to the profitability of individual mining companies. Yet the opaque nature of company ownerships and structures, using a patchwork method of shell companies and legal jurisdictions, has rendered that system useless.
Those holding mining rights have been on to a winner from the start. The loser in this whole scenario has only been the state, through lower tax returns. Natural resources have continued to be depleted, while profits have been whisked abroad to foreign bank accounts controlled by leaders in Yerevan, their families and associates.
The system is not so much ad valorem as laissez-faire.
Even more corrupt, though, have been the reporting standards. The massaging of production figures – downwards – further reduces revenues to the state and increases profits for those who hold the mining rights.
In most cases, the Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources and Ministry of Finance in Yerevan, and Ministry of Nature Protection and Natural Resources in Stepanakert have been content to allow a system of self- reporting by mining companies.
This laissez-faire approach to reporting standards does come with its own inherent problems for those massaging their production figures however. So too does the illegal mining of gold and other natural resources in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Roman times, beyond slave labour and loot, the display of war booty served a political purpose. Emperors and generals particularly enjoyed displaying war treasures to the people of Rome who would stand on either side of the Triumphal Avenue, applauding and admiring the victory of their army.
In this way, the Roman emperors propagated their power in order to win popular support.
In contemporary Armenia, the booty from the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, as far as the wider nation is concerned, has been a bitter one of international isolation, a gutted economy and a majority of people living close to, or under, the breadline.
By contrast to ordinary Armenians, the nation’s modern emperors and generals have divided the spoils among them. Including the gold.
It is widely accepted by the general public in Armenia that its natural resources, including the lucrative gold mines, have found their way under the influence of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, along with others at the centre of power.
Some, such as the well-known Zod mine – detailed in Chapter Eleven of this edition – is held by GeoProMining. This firm sits at the centre of a tangled web of international ownership through offshore companies, trusts and territories. Coupled with this light touch oversight, Zod, situated on the border between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and on Azerbaijani territory in legal terms, could be compared to the war booty of the Roman era.
Rome’s emperors propagated their power in order to win popular support. Armenian leaders propagated their power with the singular focus of maintaining their grip over power, through their sheer omnipresence.
In May 1968, an official report addressed to the government of Azerbaijan and produced by respected Soviet geologist Arsen Tsaturov had outlined expansive deposits of gold, silver, copper, cobalt, chrome, lithium, beryllium, barite, pyrite, aluminium and more across Nagorno-Karabakh.
This detailed an estimated 1,250 tonnes of gold in Kelbajar, Lachin, Qubadli and Zangilan.623 Today, this would have a wholesale value of $54.2 billion and this does not account for the significant improvement in discovery and exploration techniques over the last 50 years. New gold deposits continue to be discovered in Nagorno- Karabakh until the present day, while existing mines are being continually expanded.
On January 10th, 2015, The Economist published an article titled ‘African economic growth: The twilight of the resource curse?’624 The elites had their fill of wealth and it was time to look beyond, the article stated, to an era ‘with better education systems, investment in infrastructure and sensible regulatory reforms, the continent could completely break the spell that has held it back so often in the past’.
Looking northwards from Africa, Armenia’s own assets would be enough to transform the country if they were properly used.
As for Nagorno-Karabakh, its gold and other valuable deposits had potential to provide enough funding to transform itself into a land of prosperity. The natural wealth of the land could finance the security, schools, hospitals and infrastructure that are the foundations from which ordinary people can earn a decent living.
However, in both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, it is generally accepted that any lucrative businesses, including mining operations, cannot operate without close contacts to the government, a sweetheart deal, or indeed without one of Yerevan’s elite are co-opted into the ownership structure. The book Fighting Environmental Crime in Europe and Beyond, lists the likes of GeoProMining (Russia), Global Gold (United States), Lydian International (Britain), Cronimet (Germany) and FLSmidth (Denmark)625 as foreign actors who have entered the turgid landscape of non-transparent mining in both Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh.
Socio-economic gains from mining are highly concentrated, benefiting primarily foreign companies and Armenian politico-business attached to these projects.
Writing in his seminal study ‘Environmental crime in Armenia: A case study on mining’, the University of Colorado’s Christoph Stefes Denver, noted that:
The net beneficiaries of mining in Armenia are foreign companies, Armenian oligarchs and the few thousand people employed in the mining industry. The losers are the people who live in close proximity to the mines and smelters. Environmental pollution directly threatens the health of these people who live primarily in rural communities.
Yet the toxic material released by Armenian mines travels beyond this, reaching people hundreds of kilometres away, through the air, water streams and the food chain.626
Some two decades before the war and occupation began in Nagorno-Karabakh, on December 14th 1962, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 1803 (XVII) on the ‘Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources’.627 This resulted from the General Assembly’s focus on, firstly, the promotion and financing of economic development in underdeveloped countries and, secondly, in connection with the right of peoples to self-determination in the draft international covenants on human rights.
Even setting aside the ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh’s natural resources by the one million Internally Displaced Persons628 driven out of the region and currently still awaiting the opportunity to return home, this is also about communities still in the territory, both those allowed to remain in the region, and those who were encouraged to settle there later.
If leaders in Stepanakert and Yerevan did indeed believe in their ‘Republic of Artsakh’ project, then rule of law would see the benefits of the region’s vast gold deposits, and other natural resources, reach the people of the pseudo-nation they claim to represent.
Instead, the gold is spirited out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
There is no disputing the golden boys of Nagorno-Karabakh. That would be Kocharyan, Sargsyan and those deemed within their inner circles. Kocharyan has always been king of the pile since his rise to head the territory in December 1994. Kocharyan set about bringing national assets under his personal control.
Sargsyan also cut himself a profitable slice of Nagorno-Karabakh’s vast mineral wealth.
Between them they divided the spoils.
According to the Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, the territory’s vast Zod mine, acknowledged as being under Kocharyan’s control produced up to 13 tonnes of gold a year.629 This would have a value of $563 million as of December 1st, 2018, market rates.
According to a 1985 report, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union and before Kocharyan’s enforced ownership, the mine’s confirmed reserves were 170,479 tonnes of gold and 156,100 tonnes of silver.630 At December 1st, 2018, market rates, these would have a value of $7.5 billion.
The even better news for Kocharyan was, if he could hang on to his mine post- Velvet Revolution, is that the Zod possesses even better geological prospects as its lower horizons are exploited. Production and profitability will only rise.
The gold mines that dotted many of the areas under his mandate were among his first glittering prizes. From head of the Nagorno-Karabakh Soviet’s silk factory in the late 1980s, to his multibillion dollar fortune today, the rape of the territory’s gold would underpin his rise.
Across Nagorno-Karabakh gold and other minerals are being exploited at an ever quicker pace. Mines at Tundurget in Zangilan631 – operated by Gold Star CJSC and reportedly financed by Swiss-Armenian businessman Vartan Sirmakes – and Drmbon copper-gold mine632 and Kashen633 – the latter pair operated by Base Metals, part of the Vallex Group, whose chairman Valeri Mejlumyan was rewarded by former President Serzh Sargsyan with civil honours for ‘Services Provided to the Homeland’634 – continue to produce. Also being exploited are lucrative mines at Vejneli and Gizil Bulag, in Zangilan and Kalbajar respectively.
The Karabakh Connection – Kocharyan and Sargsyan – have ensured they profit from this bonanza, although transparency continues to be a serious problem. In December 2017, OBC Transeuropa, a think tank focused on South-East Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus posed its subscribers a simple question. ‘Who owns Armenia’s mines?’
Discussing the answer to that conundrum, OBC Transeuropa stated: Despite the sector’s economic importance, transparency of information regarding the owners of the mines is problematic, as the names of companies’ shareholders are not publicly available. The companies’ official websites also do not contain any ownership details. There is hope, however, that membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative could bring greater transparency.635
This situation is at odds with Armenia’s international commitments. In 2017 the nation became a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,636 a global standard to promote the open and accountable management of natural resources. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative membership includes more than 50 countries.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard requires information along the extractive industry value chain from the point of mining, to how the revenue makes its way through government and if it benefits the public. This includes how licenses and contracts are allocated and registered, who are the beneficial owners of those operations, what are the fiscal and legal arrangements, how much is produced, how much is paid, where are those revenues allocated, and what is the contribution to the economy, including employment. This standard assumes transparency as to shareholders.637
None of the above are practiced in Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia.
Indeed, Hetq Online reported of the Kocharyan-related Zod mine that: Years ago, Armenia’s Control Chamber studied the legality of mine operations owned by GeoProMining Gold, and recommended that the government consider terminating the company’s mining rights. The Chamber found numerous violations, but they were never sent to the prosecutor’s office. The government, namely former Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and Minister Armen Movsisyan, covered it all up.638
What is even more difficult to square are official figures on gold production and exports itself. According to the report of the Armenian Customs Service, the nation exported 4,380.5 kilos of gold in 2017, a rise of 9.4% in the previous year. The customs value of exported gold in 2017 increased by 12.1% per annum – up to $147 million.639 Domestic demand for gold in economically-challenged Armenia remains limited.
Given ‘Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations’ estimates of 13 tonnes of gold a year produced640 – solely from the Zod mine and ignoring all others – the equivalent of almost 12,000 kilos, then official figures of hardly 4,000 kilos being exported, leaves a major statistical hole.
The only way to understand this is that, under the watchful eye of the authorities, thousands of kilos of illegal gold must be leaving Armenia each year and sold onto international markets illicitly. Quite aside from this being illegal according to international law – both the rape of Nagorno-Karabakh and the domination of Armenian natural resources by a few individuals – in an era when ordinary people in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia are confronted with extreme poverty, this represents a humanitarian affront perpetrated by those who dominate the business.
An American advisor to this study, whose work in this area feeds into Langley and therefore, ultimately, to Washington’s policymakers, states: “For all the brazen nationalism attached to the story of Nagorno-Karabakh and fed to the people of the nation, here you have it... the crux of the issue. They have taken their nation and their people to the dogs, and it is not about Greater Armenia, nor any other issue. It is nothing beyond personal enrichment. That is perhaps the tragedy here.
So where do these thousands of kilos of ‘lost’ gold go each year?
The answer would be almost as intriguing as what happened to the lost Inca gold of Atahualpa, if it was not pertinent to the suffering of so many people – the poverty stricken citizens of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and the nearly one million Internally Displaced Persons in Azerbaijan still waiting to return to their lands.
It is a story of circumventing legal structures, avoiding official reporting, dodging taxation and enriching those powerful and well-connected enough to pull off such a dramatic heist. And this contemporary question brings us neatly back to Hezbollah and Lebanese Canadian.
By early 2002 – three years on from Gassan Saief/Akram Joumaa visiting Yerevan and two years on from Kocharyan’s much touted official visit to Beirut – the illicit commercial relationship between the two nations was set to become closer.
In the 1920s, a Lebanese businessman named Hammoud constructed a building on the eastern banks of Beirut River. In those days the area was mostly swamps and marshland. His two storey building hovered over the smaller homes below, populated mostly by Armenians.641
What Hammoud and his neighbours could not have known at the time was that the area they called home would become one of the most densely populated districts in the Middle East and a virtual Mecca for gold craftsmanship – Bourj Hammoud.
In contemporary times almost four fifths of businesses there are Armenian. Packed within 2.5 square kilometres, the Armenian-dominated gold business in Bourj Hammoud influences and shapes the industry across the Middle East. It gained global notoriety, perhaps most famously from 2001 when jeweller Mouawad collaborated with Victoria’s Secret, and created the most expensive ‘Fantasy Bras’, made of precious stones and ranging from a price of $2 million to $12.5 million.
One wonders if models Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen, Heidi Klum and Kendall Jenner, et al, would be aware that the expensive underwear they were helping to peddle to the hyper rich included gold both illegally mined and tainted through the theft of the wealth of a nation.
Since gold mining is non-existent in Lebanon, a second look at trade figures confirms that Beirut mostly serves as a commercial transit point in the trade. It imports gold from Egypt, which is a smaller producer, from Switzerland, which is not on the list of the top 100 producing countries, and from several West African nations.642
Imports of non-monetary gold in 2016 reached nearly $1 billion, or about 5% of total imports. The size of the Lebanese gold market is estimated at $1 billion annually, officially, yet secrecy dominates as merchandise circulate through porous borders and traders do their utmost to avoid tax, supported by corrupt officials.
Due to endemic corruption throughout the industry, an accurate figure is difficult to ascertain, although it is widely believed that the true figure is estimated to be several billion dollars. Despite the opaque nature of the industry, government figures from as recently as 2015 indicate trade in ‘pearls, precious stones and metals’ are the nation’s second largest export segment, around 15% and almost $500 million.643
Almost a quarter of this was from the sale of gold ingots ($100 million), the biggest export markets for Lebanese gold being South Africa (44%), United Arab Emirates (25%), Switzerland (13%), Saudi Arabia (5%) and Hong Kong (3%).644 The web of secrecy and inherent smuggling and tax avoidance that surrounds Lebanon’s gem and jewellery industry and, not least, its deep Armenian roots and familiarity with the Mediterranean nation, made Lebanon the ideal solution to another of the issues facing a gold producing elite in Armenia.
Their issues were simple. Avoiding the tax and fees generated through the industry’s ad valorem approach, and therefore the under-reporting of gold production. So endemic was this, that thousands of kilos of excess gold could not move through the Armenian market without arousing suspicion. Neither could gold mined in Nagorno-Karabakh, illegally according to international law, flow through legitimate channels.
These two streams of ‘off-the-books’ gold presented a certain difficulty.
In 2002, several officials from Yerevan went to Lebanon with Lebanese Canadian’s Minet El-Hosn headquarters as their destination. They stayed at the almost-adjacent Phoenicia Inter-Continental Beirut.
We know of the visit because the same manager who was running the cash operation at Lebanese Canadian’s Hazmieh Boulevard branch was included in several meetings. He understood from these that the Armenians there were representing business interests attached to Kocharyan.
A burgeoning mining empire was simply generating too much gold. Domestic Armenian gold production was, officially, only so large. The country’s laissez- faire mining system was allowing significantly greater stocks to be accrued.
Then there was the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Mines in Kelbajar, Lachin, Qubadli, Zangilan and other parts of the territory were throwing up increasing volumes.
Gold from Nagorno-Karabakh could be spirited from the territory. It could be smelted in Yerevan. But bringing the gold onto the international market in volumes would create big questions. Attracting attention meant shining light into the dark corners of the Kocharyan empire.
Beirut, the informal gold systems of Bourj Hammoud, rampant corruption of the Lebanese system, and a proven, reliable Hezbollah and Lebanese Canadian axis, would bring Yerevan’s robber-barons back to Joumaa’s networks.
The solution would draw in the same aforementioned manager from the Hazmieh Boulevard branch, who had quietly got on with the cash business and won a reputation for reliability.
He would find himself switched to the Lebanese Canadian branch on Old Tripoli Road, which was, helpfully, in the heart of the gold district of Bourj Hammoud.
“Once a month I would receive a visitor from Armenia, accompanied by several heavies,” says the now-retired manager.
Needless to say no official questions were asked, least of all at Rafic Hariri International Airport, where the Customs Department remains, until today, notoriously willing to overlook anything with sufficient inducement.
“It was quite easy really,” he says of receiving monthly shipments of 30 to 40 one kilo gold cast bars.
One kilo ingot would arrive with no serial number or identifying stamp, preventing tracing. There are only a handful of refiners in Lebanon, and they are not registered with the London Bullion Metal Association, which lists bars and refineries that are acceptable in London and in other markets.645
This illicit gold would be melted and reconstituted, illegally stamped with the name of Association-recognised refiners such as Valcambi, Metalor, Rand and others. This would confirm its value.
Then these, apparently, legitimate bars would be drip fed into local and international markets. Transferred from country to country, via the Joumaa network, this would decentralise stocks and allow them to slide quietly into the stocks of recognised gold dealers.
The shocking part of this scheme is that, while it sounds extraordinary, it is no more than a norm for an industry that is, even today, mired in wrongdoing.
One typical example comes in the report ‘Glittering in the Shadows: An analytical view of the Lebanese gold trade’, released on May 26th, 2017, by Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime: ...Investigating gold as an important element of the Lebanese economy may thus be a fool’s errand, and any assumption that the high value of our gold exports translates into substantial contributions to our GDP would be misguided. The lure of gold nonetheless is not to be underestimated in the context of our economy. There are many questions about possible links between the gold trade – here as in many other countries – and concerns over organised crime...646
The same report offers a contemptuous example of the Lebanon gold connection, one which more recently offers insight into a modus operandi that reflected the plunder of gold from Nagorno-Karabakh: In 2016, 41% of gold imports came from the West African countries of Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso. When asked why gold transits through Lebanon rather than being exported directly to refineries in countries like Switzerland or South Africa, professionals are vague in their answers... practices are engineered to obfuscate where gold originates... Another reason why West African gold transits first through Lebanon before being re-exported is that it becomes harder to trace... professionals are avoiding regulations by using Lebanon as a transit point...647
Pinning a value on the lost gold from Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia during this era is a difficult task given the time that has passed, a lack of records and a fluctuating gold price. As for the latter, by 2001-2002, during a period when shipments began from Yerevan, the gold bull had woken and launched into a decade-long uptrend cycle, which peaked just above the $1,900 per ounce mark in September 2011, but now holding well above $1,000 due to the global economic downturn.648
For the sake of being conservative, and allowing for commissions, bribes and costs incurred, for the purpose of these calculations we will stick to a conservative $1,000 per ounce. This would give a single one kilo bar a commercial value of $35,000. A monthly average of 35 bars finding their way to Beirut, a value of $1.25 million. This would generate a minimum of $15 million a year.
When converted to cash, the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese Canadian system would launder the money. From a 3.25% commission, this would earn Hezbollah up to $500,000 in fees.
Only in February 2011 did decisive actions by the United States Treasury, bring Lebanese Canadian’s illegal activities to an end.649
Was it a coincidence that, with the interruption of the Lebanese Canadian scam and the United States Treasury turning its spotlight onto Ayman Joumaa’s illicit activities, this period would see Lebanon’s Customs Department report that the country’s ‘Pearls, Precious Stones and Metal Exports, excluding Gold Ingots’ dropped markedly. In 2011, this stood at $323.5 million. This figure would crash across ensuing years to reach a disastrous $175.79 million in 2014.650
This represented a 46% drop and was no coincidence. What is more, these figures represented just the white economy and nothing of grey and black trading, of which Nagorno-Karabakh’s gold was a significant part.
Since the demise of Lebanese Canadian, the rape of Nagorno-Karabakh’s gold and minerals has not ceased. Indeed, it has sped up through the opening of new mines and investment in production at existing facilities.
Which leads back to the aforementioned question. So where do these thousands of kilos of ‘lost’ gold go each year?
The world’s most coveted precious metal – and arguably its least controlled mineral – far from Nagorno-Karabakh’s fertile soil, gold may end up as jewellery or material in smart phones and high-tech medical devices. It may be melted into gold bars and stashed in the safety deposit box of an investor, or the vault of a central bank.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s lost gold, as it circulates across the black economy, may also be used for illicit purposes, like moving a lot of money without using cash, skewing global financial systems, as a significant aid to terror organisations, or indeed to underpin militant groups seeking to create proto-states.
These thousands of kilos of the ‘lost’ and notoriously untraceable mineral represents a touchstone for crime, terror and conflict.
The irony is that the international community has acted before. It happened since 2010 with the “3Ts” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, used in high-tech devices and electronics. A raft of international regulation and consumer pressure that ushered in an era of industry-wide due diligence. These minerals were largely deconflicted.651
The challenge is much bigger with gold. While blood diamonds are tracked from the mine to retailer with a unique diamond identification number, laser- inscribed on the diamond’s girdle, gold is repeatedly melted and reconstituted. Yet that does not mean that tracing illicit gold is not possible. Scientists in several producing countries are refining a technique that produces a chemical ‘gold fingerprint’ by analysing chemical impurities.652
Soon it will be possible to discriminate between gold from individual mines, different regions and nations. Due diligence across the gold mining sector is coming.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s ‘lost’ gold may not remain hidden forever.
In September 2018, United States President Donald Trump issued a statement congratulating the people of Armenia on the 27th anniversary of Independence. President Trump hailed a new era in Armenia. He stated that the United States was “ready to work with you to help to bring into life the will of your people to eradicate corruption, to establish a representative and accountable administration based on independent judiciary, political and economic competition”, while noting the 100th anniversary of the first Armenian republic and centennial of Armenian-American friendship.653
These warm words from the White House were well-received in Yerevan. How ironic that this statement was issued just one month prior to President Trump signing into law the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act.654 For more than a decade, a seamless flow of gold from mines in Nagorno- Karabakh, supplemented by under-the-table gold from mines in Armenia owned or controlled by Yerevan’s ruling elite, generated a rich flow of commissions for the ‘Party of God’. Combined with a burgeoning cash laundering business, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has seen his finances supported by this association.
Molière wrote that ‘Gold makes the ugly beautiful.’
If true, then Nasrallah, Kocharyan, Sargsyan and their co-conspirators must be among the most handsome thieves in the world.
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