A series of corruption inquiries and arrests ordered by the Armenian authorities in recent weeks might be directed against the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a senior BHK representative suggested on Tuesday.
The crackdown followed a September 15 government meeting during which President Serzh Sarkisian denounced what he called widespread corruption in the administration of state procurements and ordered law-enforcement bodies to investigate it.
Several senior government officials were sacked in the following weeks amid criminal proceedings launched by the Armenian police. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and various state bodies alleged serious abuses in construction work commissioned by the government, purchases of government-subsidized medication as well as food supplies to state-run kindergartens and orphanages.
The alleged misappropriation of public funds occurred in the areas of responsibility of the Armenian ministries of urban development, health and social security. The ministries were headed by BHK members until the party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian pulled out of Armenia’s governing coalition in June. Media commentators have suggested that the criminal inquiries may be part of government efforts to get the BHK to support President Serzh Sarkisian in the upcoming presidential election.
“We certainly have concerns,” Naira Zohrabian, a leading BHK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We are concerned that they are targeting those officials who represented the BHK in the government. And if we see attempts to divert those cases from the legal plane, our reaction will not be long in coming.”
Vartan Vartanian, the BHK-affiliated former urban development minister, was questioned by the police on Monday in connection with $1.7 million repairs of the National Library building in Yerevan. The government says they were mishandled by a private contractor chosen in a supposedly competitive tender.
Samvel Tadevosian, the current urban development minister, said late last month that much of that work needs to be redone because of its extremely poor quality. Gor Kamalian, who was a senior official at the Urban Development Ministry during Vartanian’s tenure, was arrested by the police earlier this month.
Zohrabian expressed confidence that the former minister will not be prosecuted. “I am sure that our colleague Vartan Vartanian has something to say about the National Library, and I have no doubts that he will answer all questions,” she said.
Zohrabian also insisted that former Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian, another prominent BHK member, was not responsible for allegedly fraudulent practices in the purchase by hospitals and other medical institutions of government-subsidized drugs. A state regulatory body said on October 10 that those abuses cost the state budget 1.5 billion drams ($3.7 million) last year alone.
“I can say for certain that the former minister of health has nothing to do with that,” said Zohrabian.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denied any political motives behind these cases, arguing that some HHK members are also under investigation. “All claims that this is a political persecution of the Prosperous Armenia Party or its individual members are absurd,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The HHK has likewise said that a controversial criminal case pending against Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister affiliated with the BHK, is not politically motivated. The BHK insists, however, that Oskanian’s prosecution on embezzlement charges is an act of “political persecution” of both the ex-minister and Tsarukian’s party.