Karekin II Appears in Leaked HSBC Files

WASHINGTON (A.W.)—On Feb. 8, the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released details from 60,000 leaked files on more than 100,000 client accounts (individual and legal) with the British banking giant HSBC. Among the 61 clients profiled on the ICIJ website is the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II.

Among the 61 clients profiled on the ICIJ website is the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II.
Among the 61 clients profiled on the ICIJ website is the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II.

According to the ICIJ, HSBC files revealed that Karekin II was first listed among its clients in 2000. The profile states, “He was connected to an account named ‘His Holiness Karekin II Nersis’ that listed one bank account and held as much as $1.1 million in 2006/2007.” According to the report, the leaked files do not specify the exact role that Karekin II had in relation to the account.

A spokesperson for Karekin II told the ICIJ that the account was opened by his predecessor “for the benefit of the church and its charities. This account was transferred to His Holiness Karekin II Nersissian upon the death of his predecessor to be used for the same purposes. The Catholicosate—the area of responsibility of the Catholicos—of the Armenian Church is a national religious institution and is not subject to any taxes,” and that His Holiness “has immunity from any taxes.”

According to the ICIJ, the French newspaper Le Monde originally obtained a version of the French tax authority data, which covers bank accounts of clients from more than 200 countries.

Through a comprehensive international collaboration of several media outlets, including Le Monde, the Guardian, and the BBC, the ICIJ reported that the accounts hold more than $100 billion in total, and that the private files provide important details, such as the use of aggressively marketed schemes likely to enable wealthy clients to avoid European taxes and collusion with clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities.

According to the ICIJ, Armenia is ranked 146th among countries with large amounts of money, with $15.4 million. Ten clients are associated with the country (4 with Armenian passports or nationality); the highest amount of money associated with a client is $5.8 million.

The data published by the ICIJ reveals that HSBC’s private banking unit has made significant profits over the years by handling the secret personal accounts of clients including arms dealers, heads of drug cartels, and even royalty.  So far, the ICIJ has published the profiles of 61 HSBC clients and the details of their accounts.

Other clients that have been profiled in the project include King Abdullah II of Jordan, alleged arms fixer A.K. Gulamali, and musician Phil Collins.

Founded in 1997 by American journalist Chuck Lewis, the ICIJ is a global network of 185 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories, focusing on issues including cross-border crime, corruption, and accountability.

16 Comments

  1. I believe churches around the world are tax exempted if I am not mistaken. By problem with Echmiadzin is that there is no accountability or transparency and less trust in the way finances are handled, workers not paid for work done and money already donated for the project. There is no where to complain, nor can anyone dare to sue.

  2. It’s a national shame anyway, but, everything is conceivable to be done by Turkey in this time of the Armenian Genocide Centenial.

  3. For me as an Armenian it upsets me that such a high figure in the church needs to have a secret account. Why I ask? We should trust these people and admire them and respect them. I really feel for the Armenians in Armenia who do not trust anyone from the Government and now from the church. I ask my self and I like to ask your readers when all this is going to END? Shameful. How interesting is that the timing of this news during 100th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Disgraceful.

  4. But this is not surprising no? People have been talking about such things about the Echmiadzin for a while now.

    “A spokesperson for Karekin II told the ICIJ that the account was opened by his predecessor “for the benefit of the church and its charities. This account was transferred to His Holiness Karekin II Nersissian upon the death of his predecessor to be used for the same purposes. ”

    Does this mean the account existed at HSBC before Karekin II was elected Catholicos or did it exists somewhere else and transferred to HSBC? I’m guessing the former.

  5. Shall we put on our thinking caps?

    The gist of the disclosures and news reports is that the account holders have secret accounts to frustrate their home nations’ efforts to collect taxes from them. By contrast, [1] the Catholicos did not, reportedly, establish the account, as it precedes his term in office and [2] the account cannot have been created to defeat taxation as he is subject to none.

    Why is it wrong to hold an account in a financially stable Swiss bank?

    The issue of opaque Church assets is completely different. Does the Roman Catholic Church disclose its assets to the world?

    • I know this is 3 years old, but I figured I’d comment anyway:

      1- The claim that the Karekin II didn’t open the account … comes from his own spokesman (so I’m not sure how trustworthy that is)
      2- As you point out, the Armenian Church has tax-exempt status in Armenia, so why did they need to open a secret one in Switzerland? – oh, and why is it in Karekin II’s name, and not the Armenian Apostolic Church?

      Is there anything inherently wrong about owning a Swiss bank account? No, but there is something incredibly suspect about the head of a church having a secret swiss bank account containing over a million dollars despite not having a salary.

  6. Before judging any, let’s follow the paper trail: Is there any track-record of the deposits made, from where and when; and any withdrawals incurred, to where and when???? Until then, I withhold any judgement, for or against, ’cause I lack data and information!!!!

  7. The predecessor of the account cannot be asked. In this case the account holder is Karekin II. The question is, why is there an account on a Swiss
    Bank. Does the Catholicos not trust on the dram and his friends in the corrupt Armenian Government ?
    With the amount in question the Church could have supported the last people that are still living in these earthquake containers or similar housing !
    The Church is blaming its own institution !

  8. If you have not been to Armenia and Etzmiadzin and have not visited all the places His Holiness Karekin II has been instrumental in creating – not only for the Church but for the Nation – you better keep your mouths shut. Schools, Museums, State of the Art Library; modern hospital, the only TV station in Armenia that broadcasts only in Armenian and produces Children’s TV programs. he is reclaiming lost properties of the Church in far away countries, delivering a new generation of forward looking clergy. the list goes on. So GET REAL and if you love your Country and church so much Return to Armenia instead of sniping!
    His Holiness is the modern day SHEENARAR

  9. Account in Swiss Bank known many many years bank ( over at least 40 years) and was told at that time, due Soviet restrictions of foreign currency transfers these funds (usually raised from Armenian diaspora) were kept earlier abroad but in name of Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Vasken I.
    Is it very normal that account name changed twice after 1994 due to succession of Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin I and now Karekin II.
    Lets not misuse any info in media and check facts before comments or conclusions.

  10. Dear all,

    I think the issue at hand, much like my honourable friend mentioned above, is the lack of transparency. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church keeps its finances hidden but that does not mean that the Armenian church should do the same. Just because a person does one thing does not mean I have to copy them. However, one of the more urgent issues that I feel must be addressed is as follows: Are people getting involved in religion at a young age because they truly want the world to be a better place and to promote the Armenian Church around the world, or is it because they know, as a high ranking member, they will be able to access casts amount of money, power and control.

    Moreover, I believe that instead of building lavish churches the money should be spend in infrastructure, social housing and bettering Armenian as a country. A church is a church and an expensive church is not a “better” one than a sparse, stone walled one.

    Also, like my previous comment in another article, this has nothing to do with Turkey and will not in any way impact the 100 year anniversary of the Genocide. It is too easy to imply that it is a conspiracy against Armenia and it only serves to detract the issue at hand.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a Swiss bank account and it is far more preferable than having it in an Armenian one that is constantly changing its interest rates in the face of a weak economy. However, questions must be asked as to why would one choose a Swiss bank account over a British one or a different European one. Transparency.

  11. This is why I think we have outgrown this dogmatic Israeli desert religion, squandering Armenia’s wealth to build extravagant churches in a country that already has thousands of them, when it could be using the money to help the poor, or make the country’s infrastructure earthquake-proof. Armenia should return to its native gods.

    • Yes, We should return to our native gods…
      I agree with you…
      If the religious people can’t feel with the poor …
      who else will feel then …!!!

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