Acting on a petition from the Armenian branch of Transparency International, a state anti-corruption body launched on Wednesday a formal inquiry into the legality of millions of dollars worth of assets declared by Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian.
The anti-graft watchdog asked the Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials late last month to investigate a serious discrepancy between income declarations filed by Markarian this year and in 2012.
The mayor notified the commission more than a year ago that he has no business interests or sources of income other than his salary. However, a similar declaration filed by him with the Central Election Commission (CEC) ahead of last May’s municipal elections in Yerevan listed assets worth an estimated $6 million.
The Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), Transparency International’s Armenian affiliate, wants the commission to clarify whether Markarian abused power to accumulate that wealth. It is also seeking an official explanation on whether his recent controversial decision to sharply raise the cost of public transport in Armenia amounts to a conflict of interests.
Armenian media outlets have for years claimed that Markarian and his family own a private firm that controls at least two public bus routes in Yerevan. The 35-year-old mayor flatly denies this.
Stepan Safarian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun party, said the ACC is raising “absolutely legitimate” questions. “It is evident that Mr. Markarian’s family has concealed its revenues,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Markarian faced similar allegations in the run-up to the May elections. The Armenian National Congress (HAK), another major opposition party, said his failure to specify the sources of his wealth gives it reason to suspect him of corruption. Markarian rejected the allegations, while failing to clarify just how he made a fortune while in office.
The anti-corruption commission, which is based at the presidential administration building in Yerevan, was already asked by the ACC earlier this year to rule whether Gagik Khachatrian, the controversial head of the State Revenue Committee, abused his position to enrich himself and his relatives. It cleared Khachatrian of any wrongdoing, saying that Armenia’s chief tax official does not formally own any of the lucrative businesses which the local media has long linked with him.