Armenia’s parliament was poised on Tuesday to pass in the second and final reading a government bill that will make it easier for law-enforcement bodies to access bank account data.
Armenian banks have until now been required to provide tax and law-enforcement authorities with information about financial accounts of only those clients who are accused or suspected of certain crimes.
The bill passed by the parliament in the first reading last month would allow investigators to also see what individuals linked to criminal suspects have in their domestic bank accounts. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said this will help the Armenian authorities fight against corruption more effectively.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian likewise insisted on Tuesday that the existing bank secrecy rules impede anti-corruption efforts as he spoke during a final parliament debate on the bill involving draft amendments to two Armenian laws. Representatives of the pro-government majority in the National Assembly reaffirmed their support for the measure.
“All countries, at least those aligned in the Council of Europe, are now trying to ensure a more transparent regulation of the banking and financial sector,” said Vladimir Vartanian, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs.
Opposition lawmakers continued to criticize the bill, however, saying that it could scare away investors. “With these changes what messages will we be sending to investors if our investment climate is undermined as a result?” said Mane Tandilian of the opposition Bright Armenia Party.
The Union of Armenian Banks called the government initiative a “step backwards” when Pashinian’s cabinet unveiled it in September. Some economists warned of capital flight from the country.
The Central Bank of Armenia sought to allay those fears at the time, insisting that the bill will not soften banking secrecy. It argued that investigators will continue to need permission from both prosecutors and courts to access information about bank accounts.
Badasian argued in this regard that the new rules also require law-enforcement officials to better substantiate their requests for such permission. Those will have to be approved by Armenia’s prosecutor-general or one of his deputies before reaching courts, said the justice minister.