YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Senior Armenian state officials tasked with combating corruption have faced no investigations into millions of dollars in financial aid which they and their wives claim to have received from undisclosed sources in recent years.
The officials running the “oversight services” of President Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and the Armenian parliament have reported such lavish financial contributions in their annual asset declarations filed with the state Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials.
So far none of them has been accused by the commission of using their position to enrich themselves and their relatives. Nor are law-enforcement authorities known to have investigated the origin of the “donations” which Armenia’s leading anti-graft watchdog believes carry serious “corruption risks.”
Hovannes Hovsepian, the wealthy head of the presidential Oversight Service, claims to have especially generous benefactors. Hovsepian’s income declarations say that from 2011 through 2014 he received a total of $2.75 million in dollar donations from individuals or legal entities not identified by him. According to the document, the minimum amount of a single donation to Hovsepian was $100,000, while the largest one stood at as much as $1.6 million.
The presidential service headed by him is supposed to monitor use of public funds by various government agencies and detect possible instances of their embezzlement.
Sargis Grigorian manages a similar oversight division in the prime minister’s office. He has reported no lavish donations and claims to live off his monthly salary of 314,000 drams ($660). His wife, Armine Kocharian, is apparently unemployed, having reported no financial incomes to the anti-graft commission.
However, Kocharian somehow managed to receive $530,000 in loans from Armenian banks from 2012-2014. She also admitted paying around $120,000 to buy several paintings last year.
Just how Grigorian’s wife secured the sizable loans is not clear. Armenian banks are extremely unlikely to lend so much money to a regular client who has no well-paid job.
The wife of Gagik Mkrtumian, a senior official at the parliamentary Audit Chamber, claimed to have received last year $100,000 in “donations” in addition to earning 180,000 drams ($380) per month. Karine Mazmanian too did not disclose the source of the cash.
The wife of Ishkhan Zakarian, the controversial Audit Chamber chief, reported a single and far more modest donation: $15,000. Zakarian’s asset declaration says that Gayane Soghomonian received the money in 2011.
The sum pales in comparison with the conspicuous wealth of Zakarian. Two years ago he was forced by opposition lawmakers to comment on sources of funding for his newly built villa in Yerevan reportedly worth millions of dollars. Zakarian said that the mansion’s construction was mainly financed by Albert Boyajian, an Armenian-American businessman described by him as his “friend.”
For the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian branch of the Berlin-based group Transparency International, these financial statements are a cause for serious concern.
“Such donations can be considered to be transactions fraught with high risks of corruption,” Artak Manukian, an ACC expert, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday. Manukian said that they would at least be investigated in many countries that are “really fighting against corruption.”
Siranush Sahakian, the chairwoman of the Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials, last month could not name a single state official who the anti-graft body believes has enriched themselves through abuse of power. The remarks suggest that the commission has never scrutinized the “donations.”
No such investigations have been reported by Armenian law-enforcement bodies either. They declined on Friday to respond to RFE/RL inquiries on the subject.
This stance will only fuel more skepticism about the Armenian government’s stated efforts to tackle widespread bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices.
The government pledged to reinvigorate those efforts in February when it announced plans to set up a new Anti-Corruption Council that will be headed by Prime Minister Abrahamian and comprise several ministers and other top state officials. It also urged the political parties represented in the Armenian parliament and civic groups to nominate their representatives to the council. None of those groups expressed readiness to join the body.
Armenia ranked, along with four African states, 94th of 174 countries and territories evaluated in the Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last December. It occupied the same position in the 2013 CPI which covered 177 nations.