The Armenian government approved on Thursday what it described as an anti-corruption bill that would allow authorities to confiscate private properties and other assets deemed to have been acquired illegally.
The bill would allow prosecutors to investigate individuals in case of having “sufficient grounds to suspect” that the market value of their assets exceeds their “legal incomes” by more than 25 million drams ($52,400). The prosecutors would be able to ask courts to nationalize those assets even if their owners are not found guilty of corruption or other criminal offenses.
Current and especially former government officials are expected to be the main targets of the legislation which will be debated and almost certainly passed by the Armenian parliament soon. Some ex-officials and political allies of the country’s former leadership challenged the legality of the government plans for asset seizures when they were announced earlier this year.
Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian also expressed concern over the bill when it was discussed during a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. He said he is worried that it could scare away investors and lead to capital flight from Armenia.
“I don’t want us to drive those funds towards crypto currencies due to our access to the bank secrecy,” warned Grigorian. “It won’t give us anything. It will on the contrary make it harder to solve crimes.”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian sought to allay these concerns, saying that the planned scrutiny of assets would not be arbitrary.
For his part, Arman Tatoyan, Armenia’s human rights ombudsman also present at the cabinet meeting, voiced misgivings about the wisdom of empowering the prosecutors to enforce the draft law on “confiscation of assets of illegal origin.” Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian criticized Tatoyan in response.
Pashinian has repeatedly vowed to put in place legal mechanisms for asset forfeiture as part of his declared anti-corruption agenda. He has also ruled out any “redistribution of property” in Armenia since taking office in May 2018.