Law-enforcement authorities will be empowered to investigate the origin of state officials’ wealth as part of the Armenian government’s latest anti-corruption measures, Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian said on Friday.
Hovannisian also stressed that a government bill approved by the parliament in the first reading recently will give more powers to the State Commission for the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials, a body tasked with preventing or exposing their illegal self-enrichment.
Some 600 such officials, including ministers and judges, have for years been obliged to file annual declarations of their and their family members’ incomes with the commission. However, the body has not looked into the veracity of those statements.
Some of those officials have attributed their and their relatives’ wealth to lavish financial “gifts” received from other individuals. Hovannes Hovsepian, the head of Armenia’s tax and customs services, alone has claimed to receive $3 million in such donations.
In an interviewed with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Hovannisian was asked whether their assets will be scrutinized after the bill comes into effect. “We leave it to law-enforcement bodies to get answers to such questions,” she said. “Yes, they can ask officials: ‘Where did you get that money from?’”
“The law-enforcement system will be able to ask officials this question,” added the minister.
Hovannisian also said that the State Commission for the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials will similarly be allowed to take actions resulting in “certain legal consequences.”
The Armenian government pledged to step up its declared fight against corruption earlier this year. Armenia’s leading anti-graft watchdog affiliated with Transparency International said in early September, however, that it sees no evidence yet of any decrease in the scale of various corrupt practices.
Armenia ranked 95th out of 168 countries that were evaluated in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).