UPDATE: Dear reader, after this article was published, it turned out that there was a mistake in the data provided to the Fact Investigation Platform by the Civil Aviation Committee of the Republic of Armenia in connection with the flight of a government plane on April 5, 2016. You can read more details about this mistake, as well as a newly revealed flight here.
For years, there has been debate about Serzh Sargsyan’s regular “trips” to the city of Baden-Baden and the thousands of dollars spent there. FIP.am has revealed the number of times Sargsyan traveled to Baden-Baden at the expense of the state, and how the presidential plane was used during his tenure. It turns out that Sargsyan visited Baden-Baden even during the April war.
At the August 25 sitting of the National Assembly, Khachatur Sukiasyan, a member of the “Civil Contract” faction, referred to the corruption of the former authorities and mentioned the third president Serzh Sargsyan, claiming that the latter had lost $ 100 million in a casino in Baden-Baden.
“You all know very well that the third president spent more than 100 million dollars in casinos, in the same Baden-Baden,” Sukiasyan stated.
The next day, in a briefing with journalists, Sukiasyan not only reaffirmed the allegations made in his speech, but also provided new details. “Our government plane came from the appropriate place, where there is a casino, from here the money was taken in sacks to pay. You can play and then pay.”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has also repeatedly accused Sargsyan of wasting millions in the German city of Baden-Baden.
It should also be noted that before the 2021 snap elections, in response to these accusations, Sargsyan did not deny that he has been in Baden-Baden, but noted that it is a resort and cultural city, and he has always bypassed the streets where there are casinos.
The Fact Investigation Platform sent inquiries to the Civil Aviation Committee, requesting to provide information on the flights of the government plane from January 1, 2008 to January 1, 2018, based on the request of the Office of the President of the Republic of Armenia. Open sources were also used to detect some of the flights.
The mystery of annual vacations in Baden-Baden
Every year since 2008, Serzh Sargsyan flew more than 16 times by government plane to the airport of the German cities of Baden-Baden/Karlsruhe. Evidence of this fact is the data provided to FIP.am by the Civil Aviation Committee.
It should be noted that although some of the information provided mentions “Baden” as the city of arrival, others mention “Baden-Baden”, and in some cases “Karlsruhe”, the study of the chronology of these flights and the comparison of the photos on the Internet, make it clear that in all cases it is the Flughafen Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden airport between the cities of Baden-Baden and Karlsruhe in the Baden region of Germany.
Thus, for the first time the newly elected President Serzh Sargsyan used the government plane for his vacation at the expense of the Armenian taxpayers in August 2008 to leave for Baden-Baden. According to the press release published on the official website of the president, he went on a two-week vacation on August 4. It was mentioned that Sargsyan would spend two days in Europe, after which he would leave for Beijing for an official meeting.
However, the flight actually took place the day before the press release was issued. On August 3, the Armenian government plane with registration number EK-RA01 was spotted by a German photographer while landing at the airport of the famous German city of Baden-Baden/Karlsruhe.
Two days later, on August 5, another photographer captured the Armenian plane at the same airport, stating that the President of Armenia had stayed there for 3 days.
It is noteworthy that the list provided by the Civil Aviation Committee does not include this flight, and neither is there any information on the president’s vacation flight abroad in August 2009 next year.
According to the official press release, the President went on a vacation on August 11, 2009, and already on August 15, the government plane was spotted at the airport of Baden-Baden/Karlsruhe. It is not known how long Sargsyan stayed there.
In the same year, four months later, Sargsyan, using the occasion of the official meeting, flew to Baden again. The meeting of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan was scheduled in Munich on November 22, 2009 for talks on the Karabakh issue. To organize this meeting, the President ordered the Civil Aviation Department to organize special flights Yerevan-Munich and Munich-Yerevan for the delegation. Moreover, according to the order, only President Sargsyan, Chief of Staff A. Ghahramanyan, Deputy Chief of the State Protection Service V. Ghazaryan and 5 security officers were supposed to leave 4 days before the meeting.
In other words, a few days before the meeting with Aliyev, Sargsyan spent some time in Baden-Baden, from where he left for the official meeting.
Sargsyan’s next visit to Baden-Baden took place in July 2010 during his vacation. According to the press release, Sargsyan was going on a “short vacation” on July 24, “only a part” of which was to be spent abroad.
However, contrary to the press release by the Staff of the President, Sargsyan stayed abroad during the entire vacation. According to the flight chronology, the government plane left Yerevan on July 24 and stayed at Baden-Baden airport until August 8. There are no press releases about the president on the presidential website in this period.
However, remarkable is not so much the circumstance that he spent two weeks in this resort town, but the “strange” flight of the presidential plane on August 8. The plane flew from Baden to Yerevan on the same day, then flew back to Baden-Baden and returned to Yerevan. This circumstance is especially noteworthy against the background of Khachatur Sukiasyan’s recent claim that money was taken to the casino by plane.
The year 2011 was no exception in terms of former president’s annual visits to Baden-Baden. The President visit the city on a “short” vacation in 2011 as well.
On July 30, the presidential plane left for Baden-Baden. It is noteworthy that in this case the flight to the German city was mentioned in the relevant decree of the President.
Sargsyan’s “short” vacation in Baden-Baden lasted from July 30 to August 11 and ended in Limassol, Cyprus, where the President arrived on a working visit.
Sargsyan also managed to use the occasion of his official visit to Great Britain (which started on July 26, 2012) to visit Baden-Baden again. Thus, the president was supposed to be present at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London. However, at the end of the official visit, the government plane did not return to Yerevan, but landed at Baden-Baden/Karlsruhe airport.
Օn August 2, the Office of the President issued a press release, stating that the President had left for a short vacation, a part of which he would spend abroad.
On August 7, interrupting the vacation, the third president left for Moscow on an official visit, where he met with the Russian president. However, this flight is missing in the data received from the Civil Aviation Committee. Hence, a question arises as to what plane was used and where from Sargsyan left for Moscow.
In 2013, after being re-elected president, Sargsyan again spent his vacation in Baden-Baden, sticking to the established tradition. The government plane flew him to the German city on June 12. It is noteworthy that the plane did not return to Yerevan immediately, but made a stop in Barcelona, Spain.
One week later, on June 20, the government plane left Yerevan for Baden-Baden/Karlsruhe Airport, from where it flew to Vienna for the president to participate in the summit of the European People’s Party (EPP). Then the plane returned to Yerevan on the same day.
However, Sargsyan continued his June vacation disrupted by official meetings next month. Thus, on July 22, the government plane flew Sargsyan to Baden-Baden, left him there, made a transit landing in the Greek capital Athens, and returned to Yerevan.
This time the President’s vacation was interrupted by a working visit. On August 4, Sargsyan left for Tehran to attend the inauguration ceremony of the newly elected President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. However, the president took the government plane not from Baden-Baden, where it had left him, but from Zurich, Switzerland, which is located only 150 km south of Baden-Baden.
It is unknown why and how the president appeared in this Swiss city, which is considered the financial and banking center of the world. However, after attending the inauguration ceremony, he returned to Zurich to spend a week on vacation. One week later, on August 11, the government plane left Yerevan for Zurich to return the president from vacation, landing in Athens on its way back, most likely to pick up the passenger(s) it had left there more than 20 days earlier.
On August 3, 2014, the President paid a two-day official visit to Brussels, from where he left for Sochi to meet with Ilham Aliyev. It is noteworthy, however, that Sargsyan left for Baden-Baden again before the meeting with Aliyev. He stayed there for three days, August 5-8, after which he left for Sochi, where, after three days of meetings, he returned to Baden-Baden on August 11. On the same day, the Office of the President announced that he was going on a short vacation.
In the summer of 2015, without breaking the tradition, Sargsyan spent his vacation in Baden-Baden, arriving there by a government plane on July 24. The plane stayed there for two weeks. Sargsyan returned to Yerevan on August 1 to participate in a ceremony. Two days later, the government plane took him to Zurich, where Sargsyan stayed until August 15. It should be noted that a parking fee shall be paid for parking a government plane at the airport.
During the last two years of his rule, in 2016-2017, Sargsyan visited the cities of Baden-Baden / Karlsruhe twice a year.
However, the most remarkable is Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Baden-Baden on April 5, 2016 a few hours after the formal end of the April war. It should be reminded that a ceasefire agreement was reached on April 5, 2016, but, in fact, the situation was still tense and there were still hostilities along the entire line of contact. Moreover, the enemy continued to use large-caliber weapons, there were casualties on the Armenian side, and many soldiers were fighting for their lives.
And it turns out that in this grave situation, Sargsyan used the occasion of the official visit to Germany scheduled for April 6-7 to leave for Baden-Baden again. On April 5, after attending the funeral of recoinaissance officer and machine gunner Sasun Mkrtchyan in Yerablur Military Pantheon, Sargsyan left not for Berlin on an official visit, but, rather, for Baden-Baden, and only a day later, on April 6, he arrived in Berlin. What was Sargsyan doing in Baden-Baden during that terrible period for the country? Why did he leave Yerevan the day before the meeting? The questions remain unanswered.
In August 2016, the President left for Baden-Baden again, immediately after his official visit to Brazil. Sargsyan left for Baden-Baden directly from Brazil, but not by government plane. However, on August 25, the government plane left from Yerevan and returned him home.
The President decided to spend the 2017 New Year holidays in the German city, and, on January 5, left for Baden-Baden / Karlsruhe airport by government plane, announcing about leaving on a vacation in advance.
Serzh Sargsyan’s last vacation flight by government plane to Baden-Baden took place on July 22, 2017, two days before the official statement about the vacation.
As early as August 5, Sargsyan interrupted his vacation and flew to Tehran on a plane belonging to businessman Samvel Karapetyan (the government plane had technical issues in Germany) to attend the second inauguration ceremony of Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani. Then, in all probability, Sargsyan left for Zurich, from where he returned to Yerevan by government plane on August 14.
Serzh Sargsyan in Baden-Baden
In July 2019, a photo of President Serzh Sargsyan in a closed pool circulated on the Internet. The media claimed that the photo was taken in Baden-Baden.
In a comment to Hraparak Daily, Deputy Chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia Armen Ashotyan denied that the photo was new.“The security officers seen on the photo make it evident. It has been a long time since they stopped working for Serzh Sargsyan,” Ashotyan said.
This bath is located in the Aqua Aurelia hotel complex, where the cost per night is 190-300 euros, depending on the type of the room.
Cities of Baden-Baden and Karlsruhe
Located in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, Baden-Baden is one of the most popular resorts and tourist destinations in the world due to its mild climate and hot springs. Baden-Baden is also home to Germany’s most famous, oldest casino. It is at the same time an “operating casino” and a museum.
And the neighboring city of Karlsruhe is significantly different. It would be hard to call it an attractive tourist destination, as the city is considered an industrial center. However, it also has interesting offers for its visitors․ There are many cultural centers in Karlsruhe, namely, more than 50 museums, theaters and galleries.
In addition, there are about two dozen casinos in Karlsruhe.
Other interesting flights
Rejuvenation in Seoul
In January 2014, the Korean website Chosun.com published a photo of Serzh Sargsyan surrounded by Ara Abrahamyan, President of the Union of Armenians of Russia, and Vachik Ghazaryan, Deputy Head of the State Protection Service, and Korean doctors. In the article titled “Armenian President among Health Tourists in Korea”, the website reported that the above-mentioned persons underwent stem cell therapy, rejuvenation treatment at the center, as well as body polishing therapy, and so on.
According to the article, the group paid 200 million won, or about 186 thousand dollars, for all these services, and left the clinic on January 17.
It is noteworthy that the Presidential Palace first denied the information about the stem cell treatment, calling it “absurd rumors”, and a few days later they noted that the President visited the clinic for preventive healthcare purposes, and the expenses were covered by his personal means.
It turns out that the president again used the government plane to go to Seoul for a medical vacation.
Visit to Moscow
In addition, we noticed another interesting flight in the list of flights of the government plane. Thus, in 2008, three days after the presidential election on February 22, when there were massive post-election protests in Armenia, the government plane left for Moscow, again at the request of the President’s Office. It is noteworthy that there is no information about the visit of the then President Robert Kocharyan to Moscow. The plane returned to Yerevan the same day.
The price of the government plane flights is confidential information
We did not manage to find out how much the flight Yerevan-Baden-Baden-Yerevan by government plane costs. In response to our inquiry, the Civil Aviation Committee stated that this information is confidential, and hence, is not subject to disclosure.
It should be noted that this information was made confidential at the end of 2016. Before that, “CivilNet” had revealed within the framework of “From Your Pocket” program that Sargsyan had left for the wedding of businessman Samvel Karapetyan’s son to be held in Moscow on June 6, 2016 by government plane at the expense of taxpayers. According to the President’s Office, that flight, and the three-day parking of the plane in Moscow, had cost AMD 15,378,000.
Taking into account these figures, we can say that during the decade of Sargsyan’s presidency, flights to Baden-Baden and other European cities for personal needs cost the state budget at least hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We contacted RPA Deputy Chairman Armen Ashotyan, who said that he was not familiar with the matter, categorically refusing to comment.
“I am not familiar with the matter. When you publish the article based on the information you have, be it acquired or fabricated, I will take a close look at it, and, if necessary, I will respond,” Ashotyan said.
FIP.am has also sent a written inquiry to the office of the third president for comment.
Thus, during his presidency, Serzh Sargsyan visited the German city of Baden-Baden every year, in some cases twice a year. He left there immediately after the April war, before the meetings with Ilham Aliyev, and on other occasions. What attracted Sargsyan so much in Baden-Baden, the casinos or the resorts and cultural centers? But the fact is that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent from the state budget for years for Sargsyan’s vacations and private flights by government plane.