By Tatevik Lazarian
The number of various instances of corruption reported to or registered by Armenian law-enforcement authorities more than doubled last year, a high-ranking police official said on Friday.
Colonel Hunan Poghosian, chief of a powerful police directorate tasked with combating organized crime, said the police and other law-enforcement bodies recorded 392 “corruption crimes,” up from 171 such cases reported in 2007.
Speaking at a news conference, Poghosian said the sharp rise reflects not only increased government corruption but also better crime registration and greater government attention to the problem. He claimed that the fight against graft and bribery in particular has become the main focus of the work of his police unit.
In his words, more than a third of those crimes related to tax evasion, while more than 130 others involved bribery, abuse of power and embezzlement of public funds. About 100 cases were solved by law-enforcement bodies in 2008, he said. Thirty of them were involved bribe taking or giving. The Armenian police claimed to have solved only two instances of bribery in 2007.
Poghosian did not specify the number of government and law-enforcement officials prosecuted for graft, however. Very few of them are known to have gone to prison over the past year.
Addressing parliament in October, President Serzh Sarkisian promised “drastic steps” to address what his prime minister, Tigran Sarkisian (no relation), has described as the number one problem facing Armenia. “We will switch to tougher and more uncompromising methods and a system of international standards,” the president said.
Armenian civic groups dealing with the problem, notably the local affiliate of the anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, are skeptical about these pledges. They say the authorities continue to ignore media reports implicating concrete government officials in corrupt practices.
Armenia ranked 109th in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index covering 180 countries.