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Vahe Sarukhanyan

U.S. Sanctions Target Plane Owned by Businessman Samvel Karapetyan

The plane of famous businessman, founder of Tashir Group Samvel Karapetyan, against the backdrop of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022 came under American sanctions in the fall. The Russian-Armenian businessman has no direct connection with these sanctions, but his aircraft has been targeted by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Karapetyan's board appeared on the blacklist of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of Treasury. More specifically, the Maltese private airline operating business jets appeared on that list. It is about the Maltese company Emperor Aviation, which in 2013 was founded by Georgian Irakli Litanishvili. The company has offices in Birkirkara, Malta and Moscow.

Note that all American assets of natural and legal entities included in the blacklist of the OFAC, if any, are frozen. On the other hand, U.S. citizens and organizations are prohibited from concluding any transactions with them.

Both Emperor Aviation and eight luxury planes in its fleet, all of which are registered in Malta, came under the anti-Russian sanctions of the U.S. - four Bombardier Global Express, two Gulfstream G650, one Cessna Citation XLS+" and one Bombardier Challenger 650.

One of the Gulfsreams is owned by Karapetyan. It’s registered in the Malta Aircraft Registry as 9H-SSK.

9H is the national aviation prefix of Malta, meaning that all aircraft registered in the country carry this prefix, and SSK is the registration number of the specific aircraft. In fact, it is the combination of the initials of the Armenian businessman's name-father’s name-surname: Samvel Sargis(ovich) Karapetyan. The use of initials in the registration numbers of one's own aircraft is a common practice among the wealthy. Emperor Aviation itself uses various attractive combinations: VIP, CEO, LUX, BOY.

Carriers like the Maltese airline operate the aircraft of wealthy owners not only for their needs, but also, with the consent of the owners, carry out flights for various clients, which provides income to both the airline and the owner of the aircraft.

Zvartnots Airport (May 19, 2021)

As noted, Karapetyan's aircraft came under American sanctions because of the operator Emperor Aviation. The latter, in turn, became the target of the American authorities, because it had contact with the family of Suleiman Kerimov, a Dagestani billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In September 2022, OFAC put Kerimov on a blacklist, based on his close ties with the Russian authorities. In 2018, the Russian billionaire appeared on that list as well. In November 2022, it was the turn of the adult members of the Kerimov family - wife Firuza, daughters Gulnara and Amina, as well as son Said. The EU, Great Britain and Switzerland also imposed sanctions against the latter.

In addition, the four French companies of Gulnara Kerimova, their Swiss head and the latter's Swiss company appeared on the OFAC blacklist. Other individuals and companies related to the Kerimovs also appeared on the American list.

One of them is Emperor Aviation, with its eight aircraft. On November 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Tresuary announced that the company, which has offices in Malta and Russia, provided luxury travel for members of Suleiman Kerimov's family, including Gulnara, even after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

The American side did not reveal which planes provided services to the Kerimovs, but noted that Emperor Aviation appeared on the blacklist because it operated in the aviation sector of the Russian economy, as well as materially supported, sponsored or financially provided material or technological support or provided services to Gulnara Kerimova.

As noted, the American authorities prohibit U.S. citizens and organizations from concluding any transactions with companies and persons included in the OFAC blacklist. However, the same OFAC issued a General License (GL) 40C on November 14, 2022, which makes limited exceptions for several blacklisted companies, including Emperor Aviation. Accordingly, Emperor Aviation has the right to acquire from the American side certain products, technologies or services necessary to ensure safety in civil aviation. In this case, however, the condition is that the aircraft must be registered exclusively outside the borders of Russia, and the goods and technologies are exported, re-exported, and services are provided only for the needs of civil aviation.

Ch-aviation.com noted that this would allow Emperor Aviation to keep its eight aircraft in airworthy condition if the carrier's dealings do not involve Russian financial services or individuals under sanctions. According to the same website, the exceptions provided by the OFAC license also apply to Russian aircraft manufacturing companies and lessors, but not to air carriers.

It should be noted that the Bombardier aircraft in the Maltese operator's fleet are Canadian aircraft, while the Gulfstream and Cessna aircraft are American. This means that if there were no exceptions, the aircraft of Emperor Aviation under sanctions, deprived of proper maintenance, would temporarily become unfit for flights. However, according to online flight tracking websites, eight Emperor Aviation planes have not taken to the skies since November 2022.

Karapetyan’s Gulfstream G650 (9H-SSK), according to those informants, last flew from Yerevan to German Hanover on August 29, 2022. Moreover, the aircraft is still registered in Malta.

Hetq wrote about Emperor Aviation and Samvel Karapetyan's plane in 2018, when we reported that in January 2018, 9H-SSK transported the delegation led by the then Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan from Yerevan to Zurich to participate in the Davos Economic Forum. In July 2017, then Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan flew to Tehran to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the Iranian president.

Top photo: Hanover Airport, November 21, 2022, Credit: Christian Winkel/jetphotos.com

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