Armenia’s Justice Ministry has proposed the creation of a new anti-corruption agency that would be empowered to prosecute state officials suspected of bribery, fraud and other corrupt practices.
The ministry drafted last month an anti-graft strategy and a three-year plan of actions stemming from it and submitted them to the Armenian government for approval. The Anti-Corruption Committee would be set up as part of that document posted on a government website.
Under the proposed strategy, the committee would have not only preventive but also law-enforcement powers. The Justice Ministry wants it inherit those powers from the existing Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement agency tasked with combatting various crimes committed by state officials.
More specifically, an SIS department dealing corruption and abuse of power would be incorporated into the Anti-Corruption Committee. The other SIS divisions would be merged with the Investigative Committee, another law-enforcement body.
The SIS chief, Sasun Khachatrian, confirmed on Monday that his agency will be abolished if the ministry’s proposals are approved by the government. “The creation of the new anti-corruption body presupposes the dissolution of the SIS,” Khachatrian told reporters.
“But it’s still a draft,” he said. “No concrete bill has been circulated yet. So we will see.”
The Justice Ministry’s initial version of the anti-graft strategy was put forward late last year and strongly criticized by civic activists. One of them, Artur Sakunts, welcomed the latest draft on Tuesday, saying that it is far more specific and workable.
Armenia already has an anti-corruption agency which was set up by its previous government. The Commission on Preventing Corruption is primarily charged with scrutinizing income and asset declarations submitted by senior officials and investigating possible conflicts of interest among them. It can only ask law-enforcement bodies to prosecute officials suspected of engaging in corrupt practices or making false disclosures.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly pledged to root out corruption in the country since he swept to power during last year’s “Velvet Revolution.” Pashinian declared in February that his administration has already “broken the spine of systemic corruption in Armenia.” He said it will now focus on putting in place “institutional” safeguards against the problem.
The head of the European Union Delegation in Armenia, Piotr Switalski, said afterwards that the current authorities in Yerevan have made “serious progress” in their anti-corruption drive. He approved of their plans to “create a new, independent anti-corruption agency that will have wide-ranging powers.”