YEREVAN — Justice Minister Grigor Minasyan said Monday that the fact that a criminal investigation into alleged abuse in the COVID-19 response has been launched shows that there are no privileged ones within the current administration.
Deputy Mayor of Yerevan Gevorg Simonyan, who was the Deputy Minister of Healthcare during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as 10 others are under criminal investigation for alleged misuse of funds.
“This is what the fight against corruption is all about, where there are no privileged ones, where there are no guarantees for any persons or officials of the political team. I am only happy that such discussions exist, with this kind of criminal proceedings the entire state apparatus and municipal staffers realize that there is an uncompromised fight against corruption taking place. If a person has committed a crime they will be held to account in our country,” Minasyan told reporters, emphasizing that the fight against corruption is the Pashinyan Administration’s hallmark.
Simonyan was arrested and remanded in pre-trial custody after investigators searched his office and rounded up a dozen medical workers on Friday. One of them, Babken Shahumyan, runs a private clinic in Yerevan that has treated thousands of COVID-19 patients.
The Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) claimed that the Medline Medical Center rigged records of its medical services to defraud the government of 119 million drams ($305,000) in 2020 and 2021. It said that Simonian did not properly monitor the use of the government funds allocated to the clinic because of his close personal relationship with Shahumyan.
The criminal case is based in large measure on a report leased by the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber last year. It suggested that officials from the Ministry of Health embezzled and/or wasted some of the 26 billion drams ($66 million) in emergency government funding allocated following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
In particular, the chamber said, the ministry inflated the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and channeled 900 million drams into hospitals that did not treat people infected with the respiratory disease. It also questioned the integrity of relevant state procurements, saying that many of them were administered without tenders.