Lawsuit Says NH Guv’s Family May Profit Off Humanitarian Crisis

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

As thousands of ethnic Armenians swarm toward the border amid Azerbaijan’s attacks on the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a lawsuit filed in D.C. federal court lays out how a leading U.S. political dynasty—one that includes a sitting governor—stands to profit from the humanitarian disaster.

Azerbaijan assaulted the breakaway region earlier this month, after long obstructing the main aid corridor from Armenia, in violation of a Russia-brokered 2020 ceasefire. The Daily Beast provided an exclusive eyewitness account this past week of the unfolding exodus of Nagorno-Karabakh families attempting to escape violence.

The attack marked the latest stage of a long-running Caucasus conflict that dates to the early 20th century and which erupted amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when the province declared independence and gained autonomy from Azerbaijan with the help of Armenia. Nonetheless, the international community regards the area as part of Azerbaijan, despite its ethnic Armenian majority.

A lawsuit filed in July describes how, in the intervening years, the Sununu family—led by patriarch John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and ex-White House chief-of-staff—held stakes and positions in a U.K.-based firm that secured mining rights within the province from Baku, rights only an Azerbaijani reconquest could guarantee. Public records, news reports, and corporate filings support many of the suit’s factual assertions.

What’s more, according to federal filings that NBC News unearthed while investigating the dynasty’s interests in the Amazon, a family investment vehicle has historically held some of the shares in the U.K. company—a vehicle from which sitting New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu still derives income. The Granite State chief executive was the only member of the Sununu family to comment for this story.

“The governor has absolutely no involvement in the operations of Anglo Asian Mining or the operations of Sununu Holdings,” the present governor’s press team wrote to The Daily Beast in answer to questions about both the gold and copper extractor and the clan’s eponymous holding entity.

But the Republican, beloved to some for his criticism of ex-President Donald Trump, did not answer repeated queries about what financial benefits he might derive from Anglo Asian’s activities. His office also would not pledge that the governor would forfeit any potential returns from the company’s prospective business in Nagorno-Karabakh, so as not to profit from Azerbaijan’s alleged ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, his 84-year-old father controls almost 10 percent of the metal miner, according to the most recently available corporate reports, making him the second largest shareholder in the operation.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

Jemal Countess

The largest is president and CEO Mohammad Reza Vaziri, the defendant in the suit, which a Nagorno-Karabakh resident brought with assistance of an Armenia-aligned U.S. foundation. Neither Vaziri nor his attorneys replied to repeated requests for comment, and Anglo Asian declined to remark other than to point The Daily Beast to the company’s filings with the London Stock Exchange. Although Vaziri is the focus of the litigation, the complaint refers by name not just to John and Chris but to Michael Sununu, brother to the sitting governor and a local New Hampshire politician.

The suit dates the Sununu paterfamilias’ involvement in Vaziri’s Azerbaijani adventures to 1997, when the company first struck a deal with the authoritarian state to gain access to its metal reserves. News reports from that year listed the GOP statesman among Baku’s suitors for extractive opportunities, but the earliest document that The Daily Beast could find of a direct holding in Anglo Asian dates to 2005, when he joined its board of directors. The lawsuit further asserts that Sununu has a stake in at least one of Vaziri’s private companies, which The Daily Beast could not independently confirm.

From the start, the lawsuit notes, Anglo Asian sought and received mining concessions within Nagorno-Karabakh—concessions it could not access due to the territory’s autonomous status. Its interest intensified in January 2016 with the completion of an Armenian-owned copper and molybdenum processing plant in the province’s town of Demirli. An image from the site soon adorned the cover of Azerbaijani government report on Yerevan’s economic presence in “the occupied territories.”

The lawsuit highlights several subsequent events: on March 31 of that year, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev met with John Sununu while he was visiting Washington, D.C., and the next day, Azeri forces attacked Nagorno-Karabakh, an advance the lawsuit suggests aimed at Demirli. After four days of fighting, Aliyev’s forces withdrew.

But Azerbaijan grabbed back some of the territory four and half years later, prompting Anglo Asian to applaud in a statement to stockholders what it described as the “liberation” of one of its mining concession zones. After a month and a half of fighting, Moscow intervened to end the bloodshed, resuming its traditional role as security guarantor in its old imperial dominions.

Weeks later, the lawsuit highlights, Anglo Asian appointed Michael Sununu—founder of Sununu Holdings, the entity from which Chris Sununu draws income—to its board. This means that of the company’s five directors, two today are members of the Sununu family.

Almost exactly one year after the 2020 conflict began, Anglo Asian obtained initial Azerbaijani approvals to exploit two sites within the still-autonomous portions of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the Demirli installation.

“The recent cessation of hostilities with Armenia has presented an opportunity for Anglo Asian to develop its remaining contract areas,” Vaziri told Mining Weekly at the time. “Following extensive negotiations, we are very pleased to have secured two additional highly strategic mining properties.”

In December 2022, Azerbaijan demanded access to one of the mines as a condition for restoring Nagorno-Karabakh’s food, medicine, and fuel route from Armenia. The move came precisely one week after Anglo Asian penned missives to the U.S., U.K, United Nations, and the European Union complaining of “illegal mining” at its concession locations in the disputed region.

Despite these efforts, as of June of this year, Anglo Asian reported it was unable to access these locations, and the blockade of the corridor has persisted despite international condemnation and allegations of genocide.

However, on Sept. 26, Anglo Asian had good news for its shareholders.

“There have been reports in the press that the Azerbaijan Government has taken back control of the Demirli/Kyzlbulag mine, which is located in our contract areas,” an executive wrote in a London Stock Exchange report. “I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all Anglo Asian employees, partners and the Government of Azerbaijan for their continued support in what continue to be challenging times.”

The lawsuit against the firm has yet to make headway, and Vaziri’s attorneys have so far not filed a response to the complaint. Michael Sununu declined to comment for this story. His father did not respond to repeated calls and emails.

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