A pro-government lawmaker accused the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber on Wednesday of demanding a kickback from a private university connected with him.
The head of the chamber, Ishkhan Zakarian, flatly denied the accusation and said he will sue the deputy, Spartak Melikian of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), for defamation of character.
Melikian claimed that an official from the oversight body demanded the bribe after a financial inspection of Yerevan’s Anania Shirakatsi University, whose board of trustees is headed by him.
“A representative of the Audit Chamber demanded $4,000 so that we are not included on a blacklist and don’t get bad publicity,” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But we said that we are not going to give the bribe and that they can blacklist us. That was it.”
Melikian, who does not deny having a major stake in the university, said he believes the bribe demand was authorized by Zakarian.
Zakarian rejected the allegations, saying that they were fabricated in response to “undeniable violations” found by his agency in the university’s financial operations. Speaking in the parliament, he said he asked state prosecutors to prosecute the parliamentarian for the “slander” but was advised to go to court instead. He said the Audit Chamber will therefore file a civil lawsuit in the coming days.
Melikian said he can prove his claims in court. “I am also ready to ask the parliament to strip me of immunity [from prosecution] and allow law-enforcement bodies to carry out an investigation in full,” he added.
The HHK’s parliamentary leaders refrained from commenting on the row. The party, which is led by President Serzh Sarkisian and controls a majority of parliament seats, is not known to have had problems with Zakarian until now.
The Audit Chamber regularly claims to have detected financial abuses in government agencies and other institutions inspected by its officials. Earlier this month, it asked the Armenian government to revoke the operating license of a Russian company exploiting Armenia’s largest gold mines. The company rejected accusations leveled against it as baseless and accused the parliamentary body of incompetence.