The new head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have launched an unprecedented crackdown on government corruption, saying that individuals who have for years embezzled large amounts of public funds will be “held accountable” soon.
“In a short period of time you all will witness the exposure of people, who have enriched themselves through large-scale corruption schemes, and their being held accountable in a legal manner,” Artur Vanetsian told representatives of Armenian and foreign media outlets at the weekend. “It doesn’t mean that we will be resorting to some repressions or vengeance. Everything will be done publicly.”
“My approach is as follows: those people who have illegally enriched themselves must return those sums to the state budget, rather than go to jail,” he said.
Vanetsian declined to name any of the “persons who have stolen money from the state.” It was thus not clear whether any of them was a member of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s government or entourage.
In the same context, Vanetsian also spoke of another type of fraud detected by the NSS. “We have many cases where people don’t know that some company has been registered in their name, has engaged in business but hasn’t paid taxes,” he said. “We know of 350 such persons.”
“These are ordinary people living in harsh socioeconomic conditions who had their passports taken away for 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 drams ($10-40) and had companies registered in their name. You will hear about that very soon,” he added.
Vanetsian, 38, is a career NSS officer who was named to run the feared security agency on May 10 two days after the Armenian parliament voted to elect Nikol Pashinian as the country’s new prime minister. Pashinian has pledged, among other things, to “root out” endemic corruption in the country.
Vanetsian said that he received a blank cheque from the new premier to prosecute any state official engaged in corrupt practices. He claimed that corruption in Armenia has already declined considerably in the past ten days.
“According to my information, since the election of the prime minister traditionally corrupt structures have stopped their illegal activities,” Vanetsian said. He referred to “corruption chains” that have long existed within the country’s tax and customs services, judicial system and “some police units.”
In the past, the NSS has never played a central role in crackdowns on corruption declared by the previous Armenian governments. Those stated anti-graft efforts were dismissed as a gimmick by opposition politicians and civil society members.
Armenia ranked, together with Macedonia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, 107th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index released in February.