The Armenian government formally dismissed the head of its Urban Development Committee, Vahagn Vermishian, on Thursday three weeks after he was arrested on corruption charges.
Immediately after arresting Vermishian on February 5, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) said that he 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. The NSS claimed that the kickbacks were channeled into an architectural firm which the official had set up and registered in a friend’s name.
Vermishian’s lawyer insisted, however, that his client denies taking the alleged bribes. Despite the denial, a court in Yerevan allowed investigators to hold him in detention.
The NSS also indicted six other persons as part of the high-profile bribery case. Three of them were remanded in pre-trial custody.
Vermishian has headed the government agency regulating major construction projects in Armenia since March 2019. He is the third senior member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government prosecuted on corruption charges. The two other suspects worked as deputy ministers of education and health.
Vermishian’s 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.