An oversight body at the Armenian Ministry of Finance has reported revelations suggesting a large-scale misuse of public funds in the healthcare sector allegedly committed under the previous minister whose political party quit the ruling coalition earlier this year.
The cases were addressed at the Thursday meeting of the Armenian Government held at the Ministry of Health and chaired by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
Senior officials of the State Revenues Committee, representatives the Ministry of Finance’s Control Board and other departments also attended the meeting that was the latest in a series of such gatherings held to address the recent efforts to expose government corruption.
President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation to the prime minister) criticized government officials last month for widespread bribery and nepotism in state procurements resulting in huge misappropriations of public funds. He went on to instruct the law-enforcement bodies to investigate the reported abuses and start the crackdown from high-level officials.
During Sarkisian’s September 15 extraordinary meeting with the government the sphere of drug purchases was mentioned as one of the most corrupt.
Sona Gharibian, who heads the Ministry of Finance’s Department for Internal Audit Assessment and Financial Control, reported that during the period of 2009-2010 as well as in February and April of this year the Ministry of Health used public funds to purchase ten types of drugs, for which payments of nearly 600 million drams (or some $1.5 million) were made. The official described the purchases as “unjustified and inefficient” and said that the medicines were bought at prices that were much higher than those existing on the market at that time.
In the period in question the Ministry of Health was led by Harutiun Kushkian, a member of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which quit the governing coalition after the parliamentary elections last May, withdrawing all its members from government posts. Since then the party has had increasingly tense relations with its former ally, the Republican Party of Armenia, which dominates the current government.
Earlier this month senior BHK member Vartan Oskanian was charged with money laundering in an investigation widely seen as a government response to his criticism as well as presidential ambitions that he revealed recently.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday, BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian said the answer to the question of whether the latest developments involving a former minister representing the party were connected to the upcoming presidential elections was “clear”.
Armenian government officials routinely deny any political motives behind the recent high-profile investigations, stressing that they are part of broader efforts to tackle corruption.