Two former high-ranking officials of the Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection received lengthy prison sentences on Friday more than seven months after their arrest on corruption charges.
A court in Yerevan found Tigran Grigorian, the former head of the ministry’s State Ecological Inspectorate (SEI), and his deputy Arsen Petrosian guilty of receiving kickbacks from mining companies and sentenced them to seven and ten years in prison respectively.
Grigorian and Petrosian were arrested in late December after law-enforcement officers found a total of 5 million drams ($13,700) of cash in their offices. Prosecutors say they received the money from a mining enterprise in the northern town of Akhtala in return for drastically reducing a 202 million-dram fine slapped on it for violations of environmental safety rules.
Petrosian was also charged with extorting 400,000 drams from another company inspected by his agency.
Both men denied the accusations before and during the trial. They said the decision to cut the fine was made by Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian after a meeting with the Akhtala company’s top executives. Grigorian also claimed that 3.7 million drams paid to him by the company was a loan, rather than a bribe.
Grigorian’s defense attorney, Artur Ghazarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that his client has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling. Petrosian, for his part, made clear through his lawyer, Mkrtich Vasakian, that he will take his case to Armenia’s Court of Appeals. “We disagree with the court verdict and will therefore definitely appeal it,” Vasakian told RFE/RL.
The prison sentences were one of the harshest punishments for government corruption ever set by an Armenian court. The case is also a rare example of senior government officials prosecuted on corruption charges. This is widely seen as a key reason why graft remains a serious problem in Armenia despite repeated crackdowns announced by successive governments in Yerevan.
The Armenian police say they opened some 550 corruption-related criminal cases last year, up by 40 percent from the 2008 level. The number of state officials put on trial and imprisoned as a result is not known.