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By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Wednesday that it has formed an hoc unit tasked with preventing and reacting to possible instances of fraud in the upcoming presidential election.

“I have reason to state that we are in a position to again swiftly react to and investigate reports of elections violations,” said Aram Tamazian, a deputy prosecutor-general overseeing the unit’s work.

A similar team of prosecutors already operated before and during last May’s parliamentary elections. The law-enforcement agency says it opened and sent to court 17 criminal cases against individuals accused of committing various vote irregularities. None of them are known to be senior government officials or heads of election commissions.

According to Tamazian, the unit’s main source of information is fraud reports and allegations appearing in the Armenian press. He said it has seen no evidence of serious violations so far, complaining that most of them are too “general” to warrant criminal proceedings against individuals involved in the conduct of the February 19 election.

“I hope that reports by our media outlets will be more substantive so that we are able to display a more concrete approach,” he told journalists.

The senior prosecutor said the anti-fraud task force is also ready to look into similar reports by election observers and candidates. “We will investigate a report or complaint from any party,” he said.

The upcoming ballot is expected to be closely watched by more than 300 foreign observers and an even larger number of local monitors. The head of Armenia’s largest vote-monitoring group, It’s Your Choice, said on Wednesday that it plans to deploy observers in each of the 1,923 polling stations across the country.

Harutiun Hambartsumian told RFE/RL that his organization has already launched its observation mission and has found only minor election-related violations so far. He said It’s Your Choice observers found, in particular, serious inaccuracies in voter lists in the northern town of Stepanavan.

So far Hambartsumian’s observers have not reported any case of vote buying, which is believed to have been widespread in the May 2007 elections. “It is very hard to prove vote buying because people accepting vote bribes won’t say who paid them,” he told RFE/RL.

Even those refusing to sell their votes will not necessarily make such revelations. RFE/RL received on Wednesday a phone call from a Yerevan resident who claimed to have been offered 5,000 drams ($16) in return for voting for Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The man identified himself as Aharon Yesayan but refused to name the person who allegedly offered him a bribe.

(Photolur photo: Aram Tamazian.)
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