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27 Sep, 2023 13:07

Billionaire ex-Russian citizen captured by Azerbaijan

Ruben Vardanyan held a ministerial position in the self-proclaimed government of Nagorno-Karabakh
Billionaire ex-Russian citizen captured by Azerbaijan

Ruben Vardanyan, the former co-owner of the Russian financial group Troika Dialog, has been arrested by Azerbaijani border guards as he was trying to leave the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku’s State Border Service reported on Wednesday.

The Armenian businessman and politician, who renounced his Russian citizenship last year, was a minister in the self-proclaimed government of the breakaway region until February. Baku retook control of Nagorno-Karabakh in a swift military operation last week.

Vardanyan’s wife Veronika Zonabend told journalists that her husband was “taken prisoner” alongside “thousands of other Armenians” who were trying to leave the region.

Azerbaijani authorities reported taking a senior leader of “Armenian separatists” into custody at the Lachin checkpoint. He was transported to Baku, where his fate will be decided, the statement said. Media in Azerbaijan have shown images of the detained billionaire.

The checkpoint where Vardanyan was apprehended is part of the so-called Lachin corridor, a key mountain road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Baku installed it in April during a row with Yerevan over respective responsibilities under a 2020 armistice brokered by Russia, which had ended a 44-day war over the region.

The 55-year-old Yerevan-born entrepreneur made his fortune as an investor in Moscow in the 1990s. Troika Dialog, which grew into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, was bought by the country’s largest bank, now called Sber, in a deal finalized in 2012.

Vardanyan also led several venture capital projects apart from Troika. As of 2021, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion. 

He announced that he had renounced his Russian citizenship and relocated to Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2022 in a video address recorded in the region. He stated that it was his duty to move to “the center of Armenianhood” to invigorate its people and deflate tensions with Azerbaijan.

Vardanyan took a ministerial position in Nagorno-Karabakh the following month.