An Armenian parliamentary oversight body officially publicized on Thursday what it described as evidence of widespread fraud in the payment of state pensions and other social benefits to hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
In its annual report submitted to the National Assembly, the Audit Chamber said that thousands of people continued to receive pensions years after their death, suggesting that at least part of this money was pocketed by officials from the state pension fund.
“For example, one pensioner who died in August 2005 ‘wrote’ an application in July 2009 and received 1,024,404 drams ($2,750),” the chamber’s chairman, Ishkhan Zakarian, told the parliament. “Another pensioner died in September 2005 but continued to receive pensions up until our inspection. That cost the state budget 1,100,000 drams.”
Zakarian claimed that similarly large sums have been paid to thousands of supposedly poor or disabled people, veterans of World War II and other citizens on the basis of false documents. He described as highly suspicious the fact that the number of Armenians eligible for disability payments rose by almost 27,400 between 2008 and 2010.
“A citizen of Armenia born in 1959 was deemed a veteran of the Great Patriotic War and received benefits from November 2007 through the start of our inspection,” he revealed.
Zakarian referred to the ongoing inspection of Armenia’s State Social Security Service which was launched by the Audit Chamber a year ago. Its first preliminary results were reportedly presented to President Serzh Sarkisian last fall. The chief of the service, Vazgen Khachikian, was dismissed from his post shortly afterwards.
The Armenian government also examined and revised the official list of more than 500,000 pensioners living in the country. Some 20,000 of them were removed from the list in January.
In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Khachikian insisted that the violations reported by the Audit Chamber were not systematic and that he was not aware of them. He said only Armenian courts could prove the opposite.
None of the current or former employees of the state pension fund has been prosecuted so far. Zakarian told lawmakers that he sent more than 500 pages of documents purportedly proving social security fraud to the Office of the Prosecutor-General on Wednesday.
Some parliament deputies expressed shock at the fraud allegations. “I think these things can be added to the Guinness Book [of world records,]” said Hovannes Markarian of the pro-government Orinats Yerkir Party.
“This is a shocking picture going beyond imagination which gives me reason to say that we are dealing with organized crime in the system of state governance,” charged Lilit Galstian of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “No state structure could have committed such crimes on its own.”