The head of the Armenian government’s Urban Development Committee, Vahagn Vermishian, was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly taking bribes from real estate developers.
The National Security Service (NSS) arrested Vermishian as well as two other individuals hours after searching his office. NSS officers confiscated a computer and documents kept there.
In an ensuing statement, the NSS said Vermishian has admitted receiving five bribes, worth between 1 million drams ($2,100) and 2.5 million drams each, from private construction firms that were given privileged treatment by various government bodies in return. It said that the kickbacks were channeled into an architectural firm which the official had set up and registered in a friend’s name.
According to the NSS, Vermishian, who has headed the government agency since March 2019, also received $5,000 in cash and $4,800 worth of construction materials last October to secure a state award to the unnamed owner of several construction firms. It was not immediately clear whether that businessman was also taken into custody.
The high-profile arrest came nearly four months after Sarhat Petrosian, the prominent head of the government’s Cadaster Committee, resigned in protest against government policies on urban development. Petrosian hit out at Vermishian and the previous head of the Urban Development Committee, Avetik Eloyan, after tendering his resignation.
In particular, Petrosian claimed that Eloyan, who now works as an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, has used his position to win lucrative contracts for an architectural firm registered in his brother’s name in May 2019.
Avinian and Vermishian dismissed those claims at the time. The deputy prime minister also denied that government regulation of urban development in Armenia has “regressed” since the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.”