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    Oil magnate’s freedom in doubt: Moscow’s grip versus lawyer’s claims

    Moscow Detains "Oleina" Oil Brand Owner Karen Vanetsyan Over Money Laundering Allegations

    Moscow, February 2, 2024: In a surprising development that has caught the eye of both Russian and Armenian authorities, Karen Vanetsyan, the owner of the renowned “Oleina” oil brand and a key figure in Russia’s largest oil production company, Exoil Group, was reportedly detained in central Moscow. The Exoil Group, known for its popular brands “Oleina” and Ideal, has become the center of a legal storm, with Vanetsyan being accused of laundering approximately $36 million through abuse of official powers in Armenia. However, in a twist to the narrative, Vanetsyan’s legal team has firmly refuted claims of his arrest, asserting that their client remains free and that no court decision has yet been enforced.

    According to reports from Telegram channel 112 and corroborated by RBC citing sources linked to the Moscow police, Vanetsyan’s detention was the result of a meticulous operation by Moscow’s video monitoring group. Despite living in a small town in the Lipetsk region and claiming unemployment, Vanetsyan admitted to acquiring the “Oleina” brand at half price nearly a year ago. Russian authorities have informed their Armenian counterparts of the entrepreneur’s detention, adding another layer to the international dimension of the case.

    However, Vanetsyan’s attorneys have launched a vigorous defense, challenging the legitimacy of the information regarding their client’s detention in Russia. They highlighted procedural violations in the decision for his in-absentia arrest in Armenia and have contested it in the Cassation Court, emphasizing that the accusations from the Armenian prosecution are merely allegations at this stage.

    The case against Vanetsyan has been spearheaded by Armenian authorities, who initiated criminal proceedings against him for the legalization of criminally obtained assets, involving the acquisition of shares in the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC), Armenia’s largest taxpayer. The investigation alleges that Vanetsyan, through a Cypriot company, engaged in a scheme designed to obscure the criminal origins of the shares, ultimately securing a significant asset for a fraction of its value.

    This case has not only legal but also political ramifications, with some Armenian activists and Vanetsyan’s cousin, former head of Armenia’s National Security Service Artur Vanetsyan, suggesting that the charges are politically motivated. The backdrop of these allegations includes a complex web of business and political connections, with Vanetsyan’s ties to prominent figures and entities in both Armenia and abroad coming under scrutiny.

    Karen Vanetsyan, a dual citizen of Armenia and Switzerland, has been a notable figure in the oil industry, transitioning from selling a Ukrainian oil extraction plant to Glencore in 2012 to owning the vast Exoil Group, which acquired American company Bunge’s assets including “Oleina” and Ideal. His journey from Kharkiv, where he embarked on his business ventures, to his current standing as a central figure in an international legal saga, highlights the intricate connections between business, politics, and the law.

    As the situation unfolds, the international community watches closely, with the outcome of this case potentially affecting not just the individuals involved, but also the broader business and political relations between Russia and Armenia.

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