The law drafted by the Armenian government allows the prosecutors to conduct such inquiries in case of having “sufficient grounds to suspect” that the market value of an individual’s assets exceeds their “legal income” by at least 50 million drams ($100,000). Should the prosecutors find such discrepancies they can ask courts to nationalize them even if their owners are not found guilty of corruption or other criminal offenses.
The latter will have to prove the legality of their holdings if they are to retain them. They will also be given the option of reaching an out-of-court settlement with the authorities, which would require them to hand over at least 75 percent of their assets in and outside Armenia to the state.
The politically sensitive process is handled by a special team of prosecutors formed in September and overseen by Deputy Prosecutor-General Srbuhi Galian.
Galian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday that the team is now investigating 206 people suspected of having enriched themselves illegally. She declined to name any of them or say whether there are well-known individuals among them.
“I hope that the public will hear in the near future about the practical application of this legal instrument,” said the 28-year-old official.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly portrayed the law as a major anti-corruption measure that will help his administration recover “wealth stolen from the people.” Pashinian has indicated his intention to use it against the country’s former rulers and their cronies.
Opposition groups and figures, among them supporters of former President Serzh Sarkisian, have condemned the law as unconstitutional and accused Pashinian of planning a far-reaching “redistribution of assets” to cement his hold on power.
Final decisions on asset forfeiture are due to be made by special anti-corruption courts which the Armenian authorities plan to set up soon. The government has already drafted a bill on such courts. It is not yet clear when it will be debated by the National Assembly.