A financial oversight body subordinate to the Armenian parliament said on Wednesday that it detected misuse of public funds totaling around 1.5 billion drams ($3.7 million) during regular inspections of various government agencies last year.
Ishkhan Zakarian, head of the Audit Chamber, reported the figure as he presented his agency’s annual report to the National Assembly. He said government employees were found to have embezzled or wasted the money allocated from the state budget.
Zakarian said the chamber has already made sure that more than one-third of the sum is returned to the state treasury. The rest of the alleged financial damage will be recovered before the end of this year, he said.
The official did not specify which of those abuses warranted prosecution and were reported to law-enforcement bodies. He complained only that Armenian law is too lenient and vague towards financial wrongdoing by public sector officials.
Opposition politicians have long accused the Armenian authorities of deliberately failing to investigate serious abuses alleged by the Audit Chamber. They say the chamber itself has done little to bring about such inquiries.
Opposition lawmakers reiterated that criticism during the parliament debate on Zakarian’s report.
“Facts about the embezzlement of millions of drams abound, but there are still no high-ranking convicts,” said Gagik Jahangirian, a former senior prosecutor now affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). Jahangirian said the parliament should set up an ad hoc commission or hold hearings on the matter.
Artsvik Minasian, a deputy from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, suggested that opposition parties be allowed to name some Audit Chamber officials. Zakarian, who is a staunch backer of President Serzh Sarkisian, rejected the idea. “The Audit Chamber is an independent body that must stay away from any political process,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The most high-profile criminal investigation triggered by the Audit Chamber so far stems from an alleged fraud scam uncovered in the payment of pensions and other social benefits. The parliamentary body claimed in late 2010 that thousands of elderly Armenians received, on paper, pensions years after their death, suggesting that that this money was pocketed by officials from the state pension fund. The head of the fund was sacked shortly afterwards.
Criminal charges were subsequently leveled against several mid-level employees of the State Social Security Fund. Two of them were sentenced to three and seven years in prison in July.