Armenian Government Approves New Anti-Corruption Bill

The Armenian government moved on Friday to criminalize “illegal enrichment” of high-ranking state officials as part of its declared fight against corruption.

The government approved draft amendments to Armenia’s Criminal Code that apply to some 600 officials, including ministers and judges, and their family members who are legally obliged to declare their assets to a special state commission.

The amendments presented by Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian require them to “reasonably substantiate” the origin of combined assets that exceed their annual salaries by at least 5 million drams ($10,500). Failure to do so would make them liable for prosecution.

Many senior Armenian officials are believed to be well-to-do individuals despite their relatively modest salaries. It is not uncommon for them to own businesses through their relatives or cronies.

The veracity of their income declarations filed with the State Commission for the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials has long been questioned by Armenian anti-corruption activists and media. Some officials have attributed their and their relatives’ wealth to lavish financial “gifts” received from other individuals.

One of them, Hovannes Hovsepian, claimed to have received $3 million in such donations when he ran President Serzh Sarkisian’s Oversight Service inspecting various government agencies. He said the money was donated by his brother living in Russia.

Armenia’s recently reshuffled government pledged to criminalize “illegal enrichment” of state officials in its policy program that was approved by parliament last month. The program promises “more efforts to eliminate the biggest obstacle to the development of the state: favoritism, embezzlements, bribery and other manifestations of corruption.”