Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Monday again claimed to have eliminated “systemic corruption” in Armenia and ruled out any clemency for current government officials suspected of graft.
Pashinian also insisted that he did not order law-enforcement authorities to bring corruption charges against former President Serzh Sarkisian.
Sarkisian was charged last week with “organizing” the embezzlement in 2013 of 489 million drams (just over $1 million) in government funds allocated for the provision of subsidized diesel fuel to farmers.
Both he and his Republican Party (HHK) rejected the accusation as politically motivated. The HHK claimed that the authorities and Pashinian in particular are seeking to “silence” their political opponents.
“This logic raises the question of why I ordered a case worth 400 million drams, not 4 billion drams,” scoffed Pashinian. He said critics’ claims that the alleged 2013 embezzlement was not large-scale enough to warrant the ex-president’s prosecution are a manifestation of “corrupt thinking.”
Pashinian has accused Sarkisian, his relatives and cronies of corrupt practices both before and after coming to power in last year’s “Velvet Revolution” led by him. Some of those relatives are among dozens of individuals who have been prosecuted on graft-related charges over the past 18 months. Most of them held senior state positions during Sarkisian’s rule.
“For us there are no current and former authorities in the fight against corruption,” the premier said in a speech at a conference in Yerevan dedicated to International Anti-Corruption Day. “For us the involvement of any current official appointed by me in corruption is twice as unacceptable as that of representatives of the former authorities.”
“I hope that is visible to everyone because in the last one and a half years at least four [serving] high-ranking officials have faced corruption charges and this process will continue,” he added.
Pashinian admitted that corrupt practices still exist in the country. “But there is a political will to root out corruption,” he said.
The Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian affiliate of the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International, acknowledged a serious decrease in corruption and the current government’s commitment to combatting the problem.
“After the revolution law-enforcement bodies are much more active in dealing with corruption-related crimes,” said Sona Ayvazian, the ACC’s executive director. “It is very important that they expose [shady] deals done by individuals linked to not only the former but also current authorities.”
She cautioned, though, that a lot still needs to be done to eliminate corruption in Armenia.