Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Friday ordered Armenian law-enforcement authorities to step up their anti-corruption efforts and, in particular, recover more public funds embezzled or wasted by former officials.
Pashinian met with the heads of Armenia’s law-enforcement agencies and State Oversight Service to discuss what his press office described as further “measures planned in the fight against corruption.”
“I believe that we need to give new impetus to the fight against corruption and, if I can put it this way, restart this process,” he said in his opening remarks publicized by the office. “I find that extremely important not only in terms of solving corruption-related crimes committed in the past. I am also convinced that if we are not principled enough on this issue corruption is a phenomenon which will find ways of adapting to the new conditions and showing the ability to come back in a phased, slow, creeping fashion.”
The meeting came just days after Pashinian forced the resignations of the chief of the Armenian police, Valeri Osipian, and the director of the National Security Service (NSS), Artur Vanetsian, for still unclear reasons.
Vanetsian had overseen some of the most high-profile corruption investigations launched in Armenia since last year’s “Velvet Revolution.” He criticized Pashinian’s “spontaneous” leadership style in a September 16 statement that announced his resignation.
Pashinian said on Wednesday that Vanetsian’s exit will not reflect negatively on his administration’s anti-graft drive. “In the new Armenia the NSS is not a [single] individual, the NSS is a system and it will go after all current and former corrupt individuals, spies and other elements of this kind,” he wrote on Facebook.
Vanetsian and Osipian were replaced on a temporary basis by their respective deputies: Eduard Martirosian and Arman Sargsian. Both men attended the corruption-related meeting held by Pashinian.
The 44-year-old prime minister has repeatedly claimed to have eliminated “systemic corruption” in the country since he swept to power in May 2018. During his 16-month rule, law-enforcement authorities have brought serious corruption charges against dozens of persons, including close relatives and cronies of former President Serzh Sarkisian.
Pashinian said on Friday that the state has recovered a total of 51 billion drams ($107 million) in lost public publics as a result of those criminal cases. He said that while this is “not a small sum” the law-enforcement bodies can do “much more.” He stressed at the same time that they must avoid “repressions” or other violations of the due process in that endeavor.
Pashinian already said on August 30 that Armenians expect a tougher anti-corruption fight from the authorities and that the latter are creating “new institutional structures” for that purpose. He praised an anti-graft strategy and a three-year action plan drafted by the Armenian Justice Ministry in June.
The documents call, among other things, for the creation of anti-corruption courts and a special law-enforcement agency empowered to prosecute state officials suspected of bribery, fraud and other corrupt practices.