By Heghine Buniatian
A former high-ranking official at the Armenian Finance Ministry who was in charge of overseeing the use of public funds by various government agencies has been arrested on corruption charges, state prosecutors announced on Wednesday.
The spokesman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office, Gurgen Ambarian, told RFE/RL that Levon Shahinian, who headed the ministry’s financial oversight department, was charged the previous night with large-scale fraud which allegedly allowed him to pocket about 40 million drams ($85,000). He said the money was meant to be paid to two private auditing firms.
Under Armenia’s Criminal Code the accusations carry between four and eight years’ imprisonment.
Ambarian alleged that Shahinian forged “financial agreements, reports and other documents” to defraud the auditors but refused to detail the accusations. It was also unclear if the suspect pleaded guilty to them.
Shahinian had headed the Finance Ministry department since 2001. A ministry spokeswoman said he was relieved of his duties a week ago “at his own request.”
The department has sweeping powers to inspect ministries and other government agencies financed from the state budget. Some of them are audited by private firms contracted by the government.
Shahinian’s arrest coincided with the sudden death of Levon Hovannisian, the director one of the two firms named by the prosecutors, Audit Khorhurdatu Service. Its staff were stunned by the news and refused to comment on the criminal case. The other auditor, identified as Audit Khorhurd, could not be immediately located.
Shahinian’s prosecution is a rare case of a senior Armenian official prosecuted on corruption charges. Bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices are a serious problem in the country.