YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s government has received around 13 billion drams ($27 million) as a result of criminal investigations launched by the National Security Service (NSS) since May, according to NSS Director Artur Vanetsian.
In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Vanetsian said the NSS has investigated around 30 cases of tax evasion, fraud and other corrupt practices which it believes cost the state almost 19 billion drams in losses.
The NSS has recovered over two-thirds of those losses, he said, adding that the rest of the sum is “in the process” of being returned to the state budget.
The figure apparently includes additional taxes which Armenia’s leading supermarket chains were forced to pay shortly after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian named Vanetsian to run the NSS in May. The largest of those companies was accused of evading 7.2 billion drams in taxes.
Vanetsian said that the NSS is now looking, together with the State Revenue Committee and other government agencies, into the legality of various financial transactions worth 216.5 billion drams ($446 million). He did not specify those deals.
“Believe me, it’s very hard to substantiate [the embezzlement of] those sums and get them back,” he added.
Pashinian has repeatedly pledged to eradicate corruption in Armenia since he swept to power in May after weeks of mass protests organized by him. “Money stolen from the people will be recovered fully,” he declared in August.
Vanetsian also cited ongoing criminal cases against several former senior officials and their relatives accused of illegal enrichment. He noted that some of them have already offered to donate millions of dollars in cash or other assets to the state. “I think that that return [of embezzled funds] will occur soon,” he said.
Among the targeted individuals is former President Serzh Sarkisian’s brother Aleksandr and former chief bodyguard, Vachagan Ghazarian.
Ghazarian was arrested last month on charges of failing to declare to a state anti-corruption body more than $2.5 million that was mostly held in his and his wife’s bank accounts. Ghazarian said last week that he is ready to pay the state $6 million in compensation.
In July, the NSS froze a $30 million bank account of Aleksandr Sarkisian as part of a separate inquiry. Pashinian demanded afterwards that he “return the money to the state budget.”
The ex-president’s brother insisted in September that Pashinian’s demand and the freezing of his bank account are illegal. He said that the authorities have not come up with any proof that the sum was earned illegally. Still, the 62-year-old businessman made clear that he will be ready to donate “a part of the financial means legally belonging to me” to the state if his and his family members’ assets are unblocked.