Investigative Committee Drops One of Two Criminal Cases Against Beauty of Armenia Tourist Agency
Armenia’s Investigative Committee (IC) has done a surprising double-take regarding consumer complaints filed against a local tourist agency called Beauty of Armenia.
The IC recently called on those who believe they were financially duped by the tourist agency to file official complaints. But a few days before this, the IC dropped another similar case involving the same tourist agency.
Mher Hakobyan is a lawyer who represents Artur Muradyan, one of those who claims Beauty of Armenia left him high and dry.
The lawyer says that on December 29, 2019, Muradyan was supposed to leave for Georgia to spend the New Years there, but a day earlier he received an e-mail that his reservation at the Radisson Blu hotel in Georgia had been canceled.
The lawyer says that Beauty of Armenia Director Vahe Shahverdyan turned off his phone and could not be reached.
Artur Muradyan is not the only one who found himself in this situation.
After Shahverdyan's disappearance, more than ten individuals and legal entities filed criminal complaints against the company. The cases were consolidated and examined by the Arabkir Investigation Division of the Yerevan City Department of the Investigation Committee.
Shahverdyan was named a defendant and accused of committing large-scale fraud of some $20,000. He claims that made many reservations in Radisson Blu, Kalasi and other hotels in Georgia, but could not sell them, so the hotels canceled the reservations.
Shahverdyan does not deny that he took money from people.
During the investigation, Shahverdyan signed an affidavit not to flee the country. He’s has returned some of the money paid by those who filed complaints against Beauty of Armenia.
The criminal case against Shahverdyan was dropped on the lack of hard evidence. Lawyer Hakobyan has appealed the decision to dismiss to the Prosecutor's Office. Hakobyan argues a full, objective, comprehensive investigation of the case has not been carried out.
Hakobyan claims that there is no document among the case material showing any reservation contract between Shahverdyan’s company and any hotel in Georgia. The lawyer says the investigative body failed to contact any Georgia hotel about the matter.
Investigators did contact the Radisson Blu in Armenia. Management said they have nothing to do with the Radisson Blu in Georgia.
Hakobyan claims that the case was examined unilaterally, the body conducting the proceedings based only on the information provided by Shahverdyan, the authenticity of which was not verified.
The lawyer says Shahverdyan used his sole proprietorship firm to sign contracts with the individuals and that investigators never examined the firm’s accounts to see how much money it received. Hakobyan says this procedure is a basis for a fraudulent criminal charge.
The lawyer told Hetq that Shahverdyan testified that he made the payments to the hotels in cash. Hakobyan says there is a problem here if it turns out that the money taken for personal needs was used to make a private payment.
“I do not claim that Vahe Shahverdyan is a fraud or a criminal. Our demand is that an objective investigation be carried out,” says Hakobyan.
The victims of the second criminal case were to spend their vacation in Armenia As mentioned above, the Investigative Committee issued a statement a few days ago urging people to file complaints if they have suffered from the activities of the Beauty of Armenia travel company.
This refers to the second criminal case regarding the travel company. The circumstances of this case are like the terminated case, just that the citizens should were to vacation in Armenia.
Lilit Alaverdyan is one of the aggrieved in the second case.
She told Hetq that she and friends found the Beauty of Armenia advertised features attractive. They phoned the hotel to check if it dealt with the company. After receiving a confirmation, they paid the company. They phoned the hotel a second time to check if the reservations had been made. The hotel verified their reservations and said all was in order.
Before leaving, however, it turned out that the reservations were canceled. The hotel said it had cancelled their reservations due to the problems surrounding the company.
Mrs. Alaverdyan says she and her friends were unable to contact Shahverdyan about the matter. He did not answer their calls.
She says that even if she gets her money refunded, her demand will not be satisfied.
"I want him to be punished. I’d rather he be punished than getting the money back. Otherwise, he’ll do the same again,” Alaverdyan told Hetq.
Shahverdyan's lawyer claims he did not intend to deceive the customers.
Hetq contacted Karineh Andreasyan, the lawyer who represented Vahe Shahverdyan in the terminated criminal case. The latter mentioned that Shahverdyan was not considered a fraudster in the previous criminal case.
According to the lawyer, to qualify the person's action as fraud, the preliminary investigation body must be able to prove that the person had a desire to deceive another in advance.
"Let's say, for example, that Vahe Shahverdyan had to pay $1,000 to the hotel and he paid $980. "For the unpaid $20, the hotel judged that Vahe Shahverdyan did not fulfill his obligation and thus did not allow the guests to enter,” Andreasyan said, pointing an accusatory finger to the hotels.
When Hetq asked Andreasyan why Shahverdyan did not pay the hotels in full, the lawyer said she couldn’t say and that the question should be directed to Shahverdyan. She mentioned that Shahverdyan had made cash as well as non-cash transfers.
Her argument is that the hotels cancelled the reservations due to such a small unpaid amount and pocketed the rest.
She argues that if Shahverdyan had intended to commit fraud, he would not have paid at all and would not have made reservations for the customers.
Since the launch of the new criminal case, Shahverdyan has not contacted the lawyer. Thus, Andreasyan says she has no information about the new case.
In response to Hetq's question, the Investigative Committee reports that as of September 14, the number of plaintiffs in the new case now stands at 32.