By Anush Martirosian
The Audit Chamber of Armenia’s government-controlled parliament leveled on Wednesday corruption accusations against a controversial regional governor, raising new questions about his political future.
The head of the chamber, Ishkhan Zakarian, claimed that Surik Khachatrian of the southeastern Syunik region and local government officials subordinated to him have embezzled 575 million drams ($1.9 million) worth of public funds and property.
Zakarian said about one third of the sum was misappropriated by officials in the regional administration. He said they inflated the cost of procurements and failed to properly use government funds earmarked for construction work.
According to Zakarian, the mayors of local towns and villages have embezzled even larger sums through similar scams. He singled out the mayor of Syunik’s capital Kapan, alleging that the latter sold 5,200 square meters of public housing for as little as 3,500 drams ($12).
The official added that he will forward the case to state prosecutors after the Audit Chamber completes financial inspections of government bodies in Syunik by the end of this year.
Khachatrian strongly dismissed the accusations as a product of “Ishkhan’s illiteracy.” “They are all unfounded,” he told RFE/RL by phone. Khachatrian also denied the parliamentary body’s claims that his administration has partly admitted to the alleged fraud.
The extraordinary allegations are the clearest sign yet that Khachatrian, better known with his “Litska” nickname and branded a crime figure by opposition politicians and media, could be sacked by President Serzh Sarkisian soon. Earlier this year, the controversial governor, who is affiliated with Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), faced an embarrassing government inquiry into a newspaper report that accused him of assaulting a teenage boy. He was eventually cleared of the allegation.
(Photolur photo: Surik Khachatrian)