Nearly all the residents of Khachik village in the Armenian Vayots Dzor province collectively owe about 130 million drams (ARM)(about $270 270) in loans to various lending organizations. Spouses Alvard Iskandaryan and Arsen Mnatsakanyan, the owners of a convenience store in Khachik, took out agriculture loans under the villagers’ names and subsequently refused to pay off the debt.
Meanwhile, the affected villagers claim that the employees of Aregak and Finca lending organizations were well aware that the money was not going to serve its actual purpose and that the residents of Khachik were taking it on behalf of the store-owners. Finca, however, has filed lawsuits against the villagers, seeking confiscation of the unpaid money.
On Friday, April 15, the Ararat and Vayots Dzor District Court, presided over by judge Henrik Darbinyan, heard six cases against 14 villagers. The court hearings, however, did not last long and were postponed because some of the defendants expressed the wish to apply for the services of a public defender. Both Finca lawyer Zarzand Harutyunyan and judge Darbinyan first objected to the defendants' motion, stating that at the previous hearings they were duly informed of their right to have a public defender but did not wish to exercise it. Nevertheless, the judge granted the motion and adjourned the hearings until May 5.
Speaking to Epress.am afterwards, defendant Sofik Abrahamyan said that at first she did not realize what a court assigned defender was: “I've always thought I had to pay for a public defender's services. I can barely afford to live in a dilapidated house and don't have money for a lawyer. I don't understand any of these – the hearings, the legal terms. I say I'll represent myself, but I don't understand the judge's questions. How should I know what a recusal is? All I know is that I can't afford to [pay off the loan]. They've logged livestock in my name which I don't own.”
Some of the other defendants also told Epress.am that the credit agreements had been drawn up with the use of forged documents, and that the store-owners had registered non-existent property in the villagers' names.
“I don't own livestock, but Arsen [Mnatsakanyan] told me to write that I did and that I was taking the money to buy grass for the cattle. When I objected that I couldn’t write about animals I didn’t have, he replied that [the loan organization] wouldn't check,” villager Sofik Abrahamyan.
Defendant Mariam Mikayelyan, in turn, claimed that a Finca employee had gone to her house but did not check the number of the animals she owned.
In an interview with Epress.am, however, Zarzand Harutyunyan denied the villagers' allegations that Finca employees failed in many cases to collect legitimate data before drawing up the loan agreements.
“The learned about the villagers' property and their livestock from the references they had presented. As a rule, our loan officers always check these data, so I'm confident that before issuing the loans, our specialists actually visited the villagers' houses and made sure [the property existed],” the Finca representative said.