A controversial law enacted by the Armenian government last year allows prosecutors to seek asset forfeiture in case of having “sufficient grounds to suspect” that the market value of an individual’s properties exceeds their “legal income” by at least 50 million drams ($100,000).
Courts can allow the confiscation of such assets 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.
The politically sensitive process is handled by a special division formed within Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General last September.
A spokesman for the law-enforcement agency, Gor Abrahamian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Thursday that the division has investigated more than 200 individuals and believes that at least four of them had illegally enriched themselves and their families.
Abrahamian said the prosecutors have secured court decisions to freeze their assets worth a combined 6 billion drams ($12 million). Those include 20 properties and cash, he said.
The suspects are Vladimir Gasparian, a former chief of the Armenian police, fugitive former Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian as well as a retired National Security Service officer and his son.
Abrahamian said Gasparian has already visited the prosecutors’ headquarters in Yerevan to familiarize himself with details of investigators’ claims about the legality of properties owned by him, his wife, two children and mother-in-law.
A lawyer for Gasparian declined to say whether the once influential police general will plead guilty to the corruption accusations.
The law in question allows an out-of-court settlement of such cases which would require suspects to hand over 25 percent of their assets to the state.
In Abrahamian’s words, the prosecutors’ will take court action if the suspects refuse such a settlement in the coming weeks.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly portrayed the law on asset forfeiture 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 Armenia’s former leaders 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.
One former official, who used to run the Armenian customs service, decided to “donate” a luxury hotel belonging to his family to the government in late 2018 to avoid prosecution on charges of illegal entrepreneurship and money laundering. The government has repeatedly failed to auction off the property which was valued at $15.8 million before the coronavirus pandemic.