The Armenian government formally decided on Thursday to set up a new anti-corruption agency that will be empowered to prosecute state officials suspected of bribery, fraud and other corrupt practices.
The Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) will be created in 2021 as part of an anti-graft strategy and a three-year action plan adopted by the government at a weekly meeting in Yerevan.
The ACC will inherit most of its law-enforcement powers from the existing Special Investigative Service (SIS) tasked with combatting various crimes committed by state officials. The strategy drawn up by the Armenian Justice Ministry sets a three-year “transitional period” during which other law-enforcement bodies will still be able to deal with corruption-related offenses.
The government will also give more powers to the Commission on Preventing Corruption formed under the former Armenian authorities. The commission has until now been primarily charged with scrutinizing income and asset declarations submitted by senior officials and investigating possible conflicts of interest among them.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said Armenian judges will now be a key focus of the commission’s activities. The state body will be allowed to launch disciplinary proceedings against judges suspected of having dubiously acquired assets, he said.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian confirmed that this “integrity verification” will be a substitute for a mandatory “vetting” of all Armenian judges which he demanded in May. “We realized that the word ‘vetting’ causes a great deal of allergy and decided to change the tile but keep the essence [of judicial reform,]” he said.
Pashinian and other Armenian officials discussed the reform with a high-level delegation from the Council of Europe that visited Yerevan later in May. According to an internal report subsequently released by the Strasbourg-based organization’s Venice Commission, they agreed that “it would be neither necessary nor useful to carry out a general vetting of all sitting judges.”
“Instead, disciplinary procedures should be strengthened and a link with the asset declaration system established,” said the report.
Pashinian has repeatedly claimed to have eliminated “systemic corruption” in Armenia since coming to power in May 2018. During his, law-enforcement authorities have brought serious corruption charges against dozens of individuals, including close relatives and cronies of former President Serzh Sarkisian.
The prime minister ordered law-enforcement authorities on September 20 to step up their anti-corruption efforts and, in particular, recover more public funds embezzled or wasted by former officials.