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Former Armenian Customs Chief Under Investigation


Armenia - Armen Avetisian, head of the national customs service, at a news conference in Yerevan, 20 April 2004.

The National Security Service (NSS) has launched a corruption investigation into a man who ran Armenia’s national customs service during former President Robert Kocharian’s rule.

The NSS said on Thursday that it suspects the controversial former official, Armen Avetisian, of illegal involvement in entrepreneurial activity and money laundering. But it did not clarify whether he or anyone else has already been formally charged.

The NSS claimed that Avetisian financed the construction of a luxury hotel in Yerevan when he headed the State Customs Committee (SCC) from 2001-2008. The financing was carried out through an obscure company registered in Cyprus and falsely presented as foreign investment, it said.

A video report released by the NSS also featured footage of Kocharian praising the expensive hotel project during his presidency.

The development might be related to NSS Director Artur Vanetsian’s recent allegations that Kocharian and his family accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets when he governed Armenia from 1998-2008. Vanetsian promised last month to publicize “soon” evidence of the alleged enrichment.

Kocharian has dismissed the corruption allegations, challenging law-enforcement authorities to prove them.

In an August interview with the Yerkir-Media TV channel, he denied that corruption was widespread during his presidency. In particular, the embattled ex-president insisted that Armen Avetisian did not make a huge personal fortune while in office.

“I’m not saying that people were saints,” he told Yerkir-Media. “But all this talk is very, very far from reality.”

The Armenian customs service solidified its reputation as one of the country’s most corrupt government agencies during Avetisian’s tenure. The latter developed extensive business interests, according to media reports.

Serzh Sarkisian sacked Avetisian shortly after he succeeded Kocharian as president of the republic in April 2008. Just one week after taking office, Sarkisian accused customs officials of abetting smuggling to illegally enrich themselves and penalizing importers refusing to pay kickbacks.

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