Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has again claimed to have eliminated “systemic” corruption in Armenia amid continuing allegations about illicit enrichment of members of his government and political team.
“There is no systemic corruption in Armenia,” Pashinyan insisted during a news conference held on Tuesday. He said this is evidenced by a large number of corruption cases investigated by law-enforcement authorities.
“Had there been systemic corruption there would not have been these [corruption] revelations,” he said. “Systemic corruption would mean that I have a share in [corruption schemes.]”
Daniel Ioannisian of the Yerevan-based Union of Informed Citizens disputed Pashinyan’s claim. He said that while corrupt practices in the country are not as “systemic” as they were before the 2018 “velvet revolution” they remain widespread and involve the higher echelons of government as well.
“We can see, for example, that a person, who had received taxpayers’ money for bogus business trips lasting for hundreds of days and then had to return that money [to the state,] is appointed as chairman of the [recently established] Anti-Corruption Court,” argued Ioannisian. “Instead of putting him on trial, they appoint him as chairman of the Anti-Corruption Court.”
“We can see a very tolerant treatment of many [corrupt] practices,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Together with Romania, Armenia ranked 63th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released in January. It occupied 58th place in the previous CPI released a year ago.
The Berlin-based watchdog said that the downgrade reflects “worrying signs” in the South Caucasus country. Its Armenian branch pointed to “selective” enforcement of laws and regulations, controversial appointments of senior officials as well as growing questions about integrity in public procurement.
Pro-opposition and independent media outlets increasingly accuse members of Pashinyan’s entourage of enriching themselves or their cronies.
In particular, the investigative publication Hetq.am reported recently that Defense Minister Suren Papikian acquired last summer another apartment in Yerevan which is now worth an estimated at $412,000. Papikian, who is also a leading member of Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party, paid only $168,000 for the apartment located in an exclusive residential district.
The district is being constructed by a company belonging to Ashot Arsenian, a wealthy businessman who was, at least until recently, very close to former President Serzh Sarkisian. Arsenian’s son Vahagn was investigated for draft evasion before being elected mayor of the town of Jermuk on the Civil Contract ticket last year.
Ioannisian noted that Papikian received from Arsenian a significant discount to buy the expensive property.
“Will they give you or any of your radio listeners a discount of 50-100 million drams ($128,000-$256,000)?” he said. “They won’t. Cheese is free only in the mousetrap.”
Pashinyan defended his defense minister and close political ally during his news conference, questioning the market value of the apartment cited by Hetq.am. He said that just like tens of thousands of other Armenians, Papikian obtained a mortgage to buy real state and will repay it with his legal incomes.
The mortgage was provided by a commercial bank owned by the family of Khachatur Sukiasian, a pro-government businessman and parliamentarian.
Sukiasian and his extended family have reportedly expanded their business interests since Pashinyan came to power in 2018. As recently last month, an insurance company controlled by them won another government contract without a tender.