YEREVAN—The Investigative Committee of Armenia arrested three civil servants late last week in connection with the National Security Service’s (NSS) ongoing investigation into illegal international adoptions. Officials arrested Liana Karapetyan, the director of a Yerevan orphanage; Razmik Abrahamyan, the director of the Republican Maternity Hospital; and Arshak Jerjeryan, Abrahamyan’s deputy director at the hospital. Abrahamyan had also served as head Obstetrician and Gynecologist of Armenia for several years.
The three stand accused of conspiring with two unnamed individuals in an alleged scheme to illegally separate newborns from their parents and present them as orphans to international adoption agencies. The Investigative Committee has not disclosed the identity of a fourth conspirator implicated in the case. Data produced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reveals that 54 children were adopted overseas between 2016 and 2018, and authorities now suspect that at last 30 of those may have been cases of illegal international child trafficking.
Dr. Abrahamyan has been charged with two counts under the Armenian Criminal Code: Article 167 (illegal separation of the child from the parents or substitution of the child) and Article 200 (commercial bribe). The 76-year-old wasn’t placed under pre-trial detention despite a motion filed by the NSS. Yerevan Children’s Home Director Karapetyan, who was charged with Article 167 and Article 314 (official forgery), has since been released on bail after posting the three million AMD ($6,300) required. A third—unnamed—suspect also posted bail set at five million AMD ($10,450).
Substantial allegations of ongoing and organized illegal international orphan trafficking are not recent. A 2011 report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) revealed cases of prospective adoptive parents using such agencies being asked to provide ‘gifts’ to the orphanage managers and other officials in thousands of dollars in cash payments in order for them to “hold on to” their prospective adoptive child. Hmayak Navasardian, head of an Armenian Justice Ministry department coordinating foreign adoption procedures at the time, admitted that such payments are considered illegal under Armenian law.
These cases closely resemble the testimonies of adoptive parents who recently spoke with the Armenian Weekly, which included one woman who described handing bags full of American dollars to a local handler in Armenia, as well as being ‘forced’ to sign forged documents for other American adoptive parents for ‘procedural’ reasons. “Naturally, if there is such a thing, it means not paying for [legal] services but paying bribes,” Navasardian told RFE/RL at the time.
Robin Sizemore, director at Hopscotch—one of the two major US-based adoption agencies operating in Armenia—has strongly denied allegations that American agencies would be involved in offering bribes to Armenian officials. In a recent email to the Armenian Weekly, Sizemore said, “I have never seen or known of any infractions related to inter-country adoption. Maybe it can be different country to country, but for the US it is so tightly regulated and our embassy conducts orphan investigations and does not hesitate to send documents back, even if there is a simple transposed letter to be checked and corrected. This is why the story was so shocking.”
Following the Velvet Revolution, the government turned its attention to its international adoption activities when newly-appointed assistant to the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Mushegh Hovsepyan, sounded the alarm to authorities. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan then approved the creation of a working group in August 2019, which included representatives of Armenia’s law enforcement agencies, to review the country’s current adoption process. The working group is also working to modernize the country’s current adoption legislation.
The accused have denied the charges as baseless.
The Armenian Weekly will continue to follow ongoing developments in this investigation.