A deputy minister of education, culture and sport affiliated with Armenia’s ruling party was detained on Wednesday on suspicion of bribery.
The National Security Service (NSS) said the 25-year-old official, Gevorg Loretsian, helped an Armenian businessman win contracts for supplies of sportswear and sports equipment to “entities subordinate to his ministry” in return for a hefty bribe.
An NSS statement said that Loretsian and his driver were detained immediately after the latter received “part of the sum” from the businessman, who was also taken into custody.
The NSS did not identify the businessman, saying only that he also runs an Armenian football club. According to the Armsport.am sports news service, the suspect is Hrachik Kananian, the president of Lokomotiv Yerevan, a second-division team.
Loretsian is a member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party who participated in last year’s “Velvet Revolution.” He has served as deputy minister since October 2018. It was not immediately clear whether he confessed to the alleged bribery.
Pashinian revealed the criminal case against “one very high-ranking official” shortly before it was announced by the NSS. “It’s not that the authorities are free from corruption … But there can be no doubts that we are fighting against such practices by 100 percent,” he said in the Armenian parliament.
Pashinian has repeatedly claimed to have eliminated “systemic corruption” in Armenia since coming to power in May 2018. Dozens of high-profile corruption cases mainly involving former officials have been opened on his watch.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian was reluctant to comment on his deputy’s arrest. “There is presumption of innocence, so I won’t talk about that now,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Still, Harutiunian noted that it will be “very unfortunate and sad” if the NSS claims prove substantiated. He also said that the authorities are determined to prevent corrupt practices even within their ranks.