By Emil Danielyan
The two-week row between Justice Minister David Harutiunian and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian showed no signs of subsiding Tuesday as the latter insisted that a $4.45 million loan designed to improve conditions in Armenian courts was misused by government officials.
In a written statement, Baghdasarian again urged law-enforcement authorities to investigate “violations and shortcomings” in the implementation of a $11.5 million World Bank project to support judicial reforms in Armenia. The move followed a further strong denial of the allegations by Harutiunian.
The allegations were contained in an annual report by the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber. The body condemned the “inefficient use” of a $4.45 million share of the 1999 credit which was set aside for repairing and reconstructing 20 court houses in Yerevan and other parts of the country.
“The fact that the annual report of the Audit Chamber has aroused so much emotion means that the inspections were effective and will therefore continue, encompassing all areas envisaged by the law,” Baghdasarian said. “We will be consistent in bringing all the guilty to account regardless of their position.”
Baghdasarian also attacked some of his fellow parliamentarians who accused the Audit Chamber of manipulating and distorting facts to suit his agenda. He claimed that he exercises no direct control over the oversight body, arguing that its head, Gagik Voskanian, was elected by the entire parliament.
The findings of the Chamber were brushed aside late Monday by a Harutiunian-led commission that has implemented the World Bank program. “There were no abuses,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL after its meeting. “I think that even if the Prosecutor’s Office investigates this report, it will not find any damage to the state budget.”
Harutiunian admitted only minor “shortcomings” in his handling of the World Bank loan.
The resulting war of words between the two senior officials is continuing unabated despite Kocharian’s reported discontent with the public scandal which could endanger the unity of his administration just as it is facing a strong challenge from the opposition.