"The rule of law, not a thieves' racket" - an Abkhaz passport for a Sochi businessman
Alleged crime boss Tatulyan in Abkhazia
Influential Sochi businessman Ruben Tatulyan, considered a member of criminal circles, is at the center of a high-profile scandal in Abkhazia after commenting insultingly on opposition’s request to the prosecutor’s office to clarify the legality of issuing Abkhaz passports to 7,000 people, including Tatulyan.
Abkhazian divides inhabitants into two categories: An ethnic Abkhaz from any part of the world can obtain citizenship automatically; but for those of other nationalities there are many restrictions. Dual citizenship is allowed only with Russia, and the applicant must prove that he was in Abkhazia in the period from 1994 to 1999 by submitting many documents. Only the president can make an exception by issuing a direct decree.
Criminal authority Tatulyan in Abkhazia
From 2020 to 2022, 6,693 passports were issued to persons of non-Abkhaz nationality: 1,526 ethnic Russians, 1,102 Georgians, 3,061 Armenians and 1,004 other nationalities.
The Abkhaz People’s Movement sent a request to study the legality of these passports. The request was signed by the leader of the movement, Adgur Ardzinba.
“Among this large number of people there are names that have raised certain questions. For example, there are famous people on this list, namely Tatulyan Ruben Albertovich. He received an Abkhazian passport on December 1, 2020. He was not born here. We would like the prosecutor’s office to pay attention to this.
“Further on this list is the name of Mr. Mirelli (Mirilashvili) Alexander Mikhailovich, who became famous not so long ago. In early June, it turned out that he was an assistant to the President of Abkhazia for special assignments and that he was a member of the Georgian diaspora in Moscow, though later the presidential administration denied this.
“And there is a lot of such surnames on the list. There are more than two thousand people who were not born in Abkhazia, businessmen of various levels who obviously did not receive citizenship within the framework of the necessary procedures. If they received citizenship by presidential decree, then the prosecutor’s office has legitimate grounds to find out what special merits these people have in the Republic of Abkhazia or what professions they have that are significant for the state,” Adgur Ardzinba said.
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Tatulyan is on the list of the US Treasury as providing financial support to criminals
Since 2017 Tatulyan has been listed by the US Treasury Department as a member of criminal groups which provide material support to organized crime.
The document in question says:
“In 2010, Tatulyan was appointed to oversee all the organized crime operations in Sochi. In 2015 Tatulyan was arrested as a participant at an organized crime gathering in Sochi, along with Zakhar Kalashov. In addition, Tatulyan has repeatedly helped criminals who faced legal problems.
“Spa Hotel Vesna is on the sanctions list for being owned or controlled by Ruben Tatulyan. Tatulyan also fully owns the Novy Vek-Media company; for this reason it is also included in the sanctions list.”
Tatulyan, in addition to Russian and Abkhazian, also has Armenian citizenship. He publicly called himself an assistant to the former Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian more than once.
In 2017, Tatulyan was arrested at a meeting of crime bosses in the Czech Republic. They could not arrest him, as he had a diplomatic passport from Armenia with him.
The well-known Armenian investigative portal Hetq sent a request to the Armenian Foreign Ministry on this matter, who replied that Tatulyan had been issued a diplomatic passport “for active work aimed at the economic development of the country and attracting new investments.”
Shampoo “Head & Shoulders” for the Abkhazian opposition leader
The businessman reacted to the opposition’s request regarding his Abkhazian passport in an extremely acrimonious manner.
“The two-faced attitude of the Abkhazian oppositionist, who expresses his respect during personal meetings, is incomprehensible. I can confidently draw the following conclusion – Adgur Ardzinba does not have enough character and mental strength to directly ask me questions that interest him. This person regularly engages in fakes, gives out unverified facts for reality. I am ready to make a donation to purchase Head & Shoulders shampoo for this person. Everyone knows what this shampoo helps with,” Tatulyan said.
He also stated that his “great-grandfathers, grandfathers and parents were born and lived in Abkhazia”, and relatives “shed blood for its freedom side by side with all the international people of Abkhazia.”
Tatulyan also recalled that for thirty years he had helped the republic to repair schools, kindergartens, roads and was ready to continue charity.
The opposition party “Amtsakhara”, however, came out in support of Tatulyan, especially regarding his services to the country during the pandemic.
Representatives of the Armenian community of the country even published a list of Tatulyan’s good deeds, describing in detail how, to whom and for what amount the businessman helped.
To which the Abkhaz journalist Izida Chania replied: “Now it’s clear how much an Abkhaz passport costs.”
“Contacts and services cannot influence the receipt of a passport”
Many in Abkhazia considered Tatulyan’s insulting statement against the Abkhazian opposition leader unacceptable.
“In the entire civilized world, including the South Caucasus, the legislation governing citizenship issues is the most conservative. There is a law, and if at least one item from it does not correspond to biographical data, you will not see a passport,” Akhra Bzhaniya said.
“This topic is painful, as it is connected with identity. Therefore, I do not see anything criminal that the IDA made a request on this matter, a political organization has every right to do so. In the end, they didn’t call for repressions, but turned to the prosecutor’s office, and the latter will sort it out somehow.
I want to explain to some people, including Mr. Tatulyan, that Abkhazia is a lawful state, and not a mafia office, where connections, services to the leadership, or even merits can influence the observance of the law. The tone and expressions in which you made your “statement” are unacceptable and offensive to all citizens of Abkhazia. I hope that Mr. Ardzinba, if he considers himself an established politician, will not react to this provocation.
If it were up to me, I would not let anyone with such an attitude anywhere near citizeship, even if they were Abkhaz three times over. It is in this category that I include Mr. Tatulyan,” Bzhaniya said.
Oppositionist Adgur Ardzinba has not yet commented on Ruben Tatulyan’s statements.
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Alleged crime boss Tatulyan in Abkhazia