The sorter who committed “the most significant” diamond theft in NWT history did so to help his ill parents back home in Armenia, a court in Yellowknife heard.
Samson Mkhitaryan could spend up to two and a half years in prison as a result, if the Crown has its way. In three decades, the presiding judge said, he had “never seen a case like this.”
Mkhitaryan, 40, pleaded guilty to pocketing $393,045 in uncut diamonds – 29 rocks, amassed over seven different days from December 2017 to February 2018 – while working at the Diavik diamond mine’s Yellowknife sorting plant.
The one charge of theft over $5,000 he now faces calls for a sentence of between two and two and a half years, Crown prosecutor Martine Sirois said at a sentencing hearing on Monday morning in the NWT Supreme Court.
“The value of the stolen goods is extremely high, nearly $400,000 [in uncut diamonds],” she said. “It is the most significant theft in the history of the Northwest Territories.
“He took time to think about what he was doing and certainly how he would do it.”
Sirois noted Mkhitaryan had not even been working for Diavik for a month before he started stealing the diamonds.
The theft forced the company to interview the 20 other workers in the plant and the company has also reviewed its security measures.
Now some of the workers say they are “anxious to go to work,” as they fear another’s actions could affect their jobs.
“Diamonds are high-value goods,” she said. “White collar crimes … there has to be a message sent [that] crime doesn’t pay.”
However, Mkhitaryan’s lawyer stressed the theft was made not out of greed, but mostly out of a sense of duty to needy family in his home country of Armenia.
‘Didn’t know what to do’
Peter Harte noted Mkhitaryan helped RCMP solve the case before they even had clear evidence of him having the stolen goods.
When RCMP could not find the diamonds Mkhitaryan had hidden behind pipes in his basement, he even drew a map for investigators, Harte said.
“He was shocked to learn the value of the diamonds,” said the lawyer, asking for an 18-month term and consideration to be placed on a work-release program.
“He didn’t know what to do with [the diamonds] … how to get them to market.”
In an agreed statement of facts, the court was told Mkhitaryan would find ways to camouflage his actions from security cameras.
Routinely handling 200,000 carats per shift, worth some $17 million, he would replace the stolen raw gems with pebbles or other matter he brought to work.
Despite the plant having random checks of employees for just this type of theft – that can include strip-searches down to underwear – Mkhitaryan managed to get the diamonds into the washroom and then out of the facility.
Standing in court, with his wife and several members of the Armenian community in the public gallery, Mkhitaryan said he was sorry.
“I never did anything like this [before] in my life; never took anything,” he said softly. “I want to say sorry for my actions. I want to say to the company this is not who I am.
“I am not a bad person.”
‘Never seen a case like this’
Court heard Mkhitaryan was in serious debt and working three jobs when he took the Diavik position. He still works delivering fuel, and for a local tourist operator.
He and his wife, who also has a full-time job, do so to help his family, especially Mkhitaryan’s parents who are in Armenia and in poor health.
“Because of the quality of life [they enjoy here], they felt they had an obligation to send money home to Armenia,” Harte said.
Justice Andrew Mahar seemed sympathetic to Mkhitaryan’s plight, but acknowledged he had to spend time behind bars for his “sophisticated but impulsive” crime.
“In the 27-odd years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen a case like this,” Mahar said.
The judge reserved his decision until February 6 at 10am.