An Armenian opposition leader called for criminal investigations on Monday after President Serzh Sarkisian warned local government officials to stop embezzling public funds.
Sarkisian issued the stark warning at a weekend conference in Dilijan that was attended by senior government officials and city and town mayors from across Armenia.“We are not prepared to see some of you pocket our population’s money,” he said. “It’s shameful. If such cases are detected, let nobody seek clemency.”
“And let nobody -- be it a provincial governor, a minister or a person close to me -- ask after the New Year [celebrations] for forgiveness for any community head in such cases,” Sarkisian added in a speech.
Edmon Marukian, a leader of the opposition Yelk alliance, said the president thus admitted that he has been “aware of the plunder” among local government officials. Marukian claimed that the authorities have not prosecuted that “large group of plunderers” because the latter have bought votes and provided other “services” to the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in various elections.
“They are first and foremost members of the Republican Party and the authorities forgave those people at the highest level,” Marukian told a news conference. He said Armenian prosecutors must launch criminal proceedings in connection with Sarkisian’s public remarks.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, rejected the verbal attack. “The president did not report any crime in his speech,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “As head of state and leader of a political team, the president of the republic is just set a task of better governance in advance of new realities and new challenges.”
Sharmazanov also said that it is up to law-enforcement agencies, not Sarkisian, to determine who must be prosecuted for corruption.
Sarkisian, whose final presidential term ends in April, demanded a tougher fight against bribery and other corrupt practices when he met with the leadership of one such agency, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), late last month. “For us, the fight against corruption is a matter of national security,” he declared.
Armenia’s leading anti-graft watchdog reacted with skepticism to that statement. “Serzh Sarkisian has repeatedly said such things since [taking office in] 2008,” said Varuzhan Hoktanian of the Armenian branch of Transparency International. “So I don’t see a fundamentally new anti-corruption policy here.”