Fighting Corruption at the Highest Levels

Maria Titizian

When Investigative Journalism Pays Off


Anyone who lives in Armenia or who follows politics in this country understands that impunity is one of the causes of widespread disillusionment, distrust in the justice system and the prevailing cynicism. These sentiments are grounded in facts and not perceptions as some things invariably can be in societies where there is no cohesion or solidarity. There have been countless cases where those with powerful connections to the ruling regime have been able to manipulate the system and escape prosecution squandering all hope for the application of the fundamental precept of equality before the law for all.

A case in point was the appointment of Gagik Beglaryan as Minister of Transport and Communication, a potentially “lucrative” posting after he was forced to resign as mayor of Yerevan for beating up a member of President Sargsyan’s protocol office. The violence was motivated because this official asked Mr. Beglaryan’s wife to change her seat at a Placido Domingo concert in Yerevan a few years ago. This is not breaking news, nor has Mr. Beglaryan misbehaved recently, at least not to my knowledge. However, men like Gagik Beglaryan (Chorni Gago), Ruben Hayrapetyan (Nemets Rubo), Suren Khatchatryan (Liska) and many others with similarly colorful nicknames continue to operate, conduct business, maintain relationships and steer clear of any recrimination through their very powerful connections and by having a plethora of volunteers to act as their fall guys. And those who wield no influence, who do not have access to unlimited amounts of cash and resources, who are not related to anyone who can provide them with protection are the ones upon whom the heavy hand of the law comes to rest.

As long as there is an absence of political will, as long as the justice system is not independent, as long as society tolerates this kind of behavior, and as long as mainstream media does not report on it these men who hold the levers of power are free to act in a manner which they feel entitled to. It doesn’t have to be so. Recently, events unfolding in Brazil have underscored how persistent, professional and relentless investigative journalism can bring those whom the justice system hasn’t been able to touch to answer.

On November 12, 2012, Jose Dirceu, former chief-of-staff (2003-2005) of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) was sentenced to almost 11 years for corruption by the country’s Supreme Court. He is known to be the mastermind behind Mensalao, a massive corruption scheme that diverted public funds to pay legislators in the ruling coalition to vote in favor of government initiatives.

The verdict was significant for Brazil who suffers from a long tradition of impunity and absence of freedom of expression and even more so because it was handed down seven years after the scandal first broke (and which almost cost Lula his re-election in 2006) and five years after the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.

Reporting on the verdict, an article in Al Jazeera stated: “The high profile sentences have been seen by many in Brazil as evidence that politics is no longer immune from punishment.” Reuters reported the following: “The corruption trial, which has been running live on Brazilian TV for the last two months, could have repercussions for future trials involving senior politicians, who have long been regarded as untouchable.”

About a month ago, Transparency International and the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute, IPYS) gave three Brazilian journalists, Andreza Matais, Jose Ernesto Credendio and Catia Seabra the annual Latin American Investigative Journalism Award for their reporting on the scandal that eventually led to the resignation of another chief-of-staff, Antonio Palocci (of current president Dilma Roussef). Their investigative journalism in Folha de Sao Paulo began with a story about a questionable purchase of a luxury apartment. “As they followed leads and pieced evidence together, a complex network of illicit activities came into view, much of it centering on a consultancy firm in which Palocci was involved.”

According to Global Investigative Journalism Network, none of this would have been possible without the tenacious and fearless reporting of Brazilian journalists.

Addressing the Latin American Investigative Journalism Conference in Bogota, David Kaplan of the Global Investigative Journalism Network said, “If you invest in investigative journalism, you get dividends in democracy, transparency and accountability.”

Could exposing real cases of corruption lead to fundamental changes in our own country? Perhaps, but it is also true that there have been cases where criminal activity among the so-called elites of Armenia have been made public with the same disappointing result  – a slap on the wrist, a forced resignation coupled with a convenient loss of memory and a promise of a better, more influential appointment at a later date.

While the Brazilian experience is encouraging, to expect mainstream broadcast media in Armenia (who is only as free as the president’s office allows it to be) or semi-independent print and web media outfits to engage in such investigative journalism where we would see the departure of people who abuse their positions of power and influence might be premature because of the atmosphere of fear which persists.

Forcing accountability and “encouraging” the executive branch of government to release the chains around the judiciary’s neck so that it can ensure the equal application of the law will come about when we liberate the individual, the reporter, the anchor, the editor, the writer, the media mogul from the chains of their own forbearance. Investigative journalism, citizen journalism, and social media will be effective tools only when we begin to believe that we are free. The consequences of that freedom might be threats and intimidation which might deter the journalist from reporting on cases of abuse and blatant corruption. However, if all those who report the news, also support one another, exercise their civic rights, express their solidarity with one another, mobilize society to join forces, then not even the long arm of our privileged elite can touch them. Yes, the Brazilian example is encouraging and we should learn from it by applying constant, consistent and unrelenting pressure by reporting, elucidating and enlightening fearlessly. The dividends for democracy, transparency and accountability will far outweigh the consequences for all of us.


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  1. GB said:

    And as long as corruption exist, then the real unity between Diaspora Armenians and Armenia does not exist. This issue must be addressed to those Armenian citizens, who are looking for a better and stronger Armenia, especially to those oligarch “Hayrenaser” gangs, where their big bellies getting bigger and bigger on daily bases!!

  2. peter megerdumian said:

    Corruption affects all the nations of the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Go visit some of these countries and you will see. The Hayastansi oligarchs have ties with Moscow .Corruption is rampant in Azerbajian and it may seem less because of all the oil money hides some of the dirty secrets. Armenians are not corrupt as a whole but what causes corruption among Armenians is the country where they come from. If the country that they come from is corrupt, they end up becoming corrupt. It is interesting that the Ottoman (western Armenians) from Turkish occupied Armenia who reside on the east coast continue to have an excellent reputation of being honest and hard-working people.
    Another example is that Persian-Armenians to this day still continue to have a reputation of great honesty in Iran and that explains why most accountants in Iran are Persian-Armenian.It is important to note that Hayastansis in the US still are involved in corruption and fraud and maintain their old Soviet ways. Don’t forget the (Russian)- Armenian power gang and how they tried to steal all that money through fraud and damaged the reputation of Armenians. Almost 100% of the negative news stories about Armenians involve Hayastansis. It is this perverted communist regime that had such a devastating impact on them and others in the former Soviet Union. The rapid shift from Communism to capitalism was the biggest mistake that the former Soviet Union republics could do. We can thank Larry Summers for pushing the Soviet republics to become capitalistic. We can also thank Larry Summers(clinton era economic advisor ) for deregulating banks that led to the 2008 financial crisis that we still suffer from.

    • GB said:

      Armenian educational system needs a subject about corruption and learn in their high school and universities. New generation must know the consequences of corruption in Armenia, and why corruption is a dangerous disease!! They have to learn how corruption will harm them morally and financially, and mostly that I am worried about personally ” Armenia’s National Security”, where we are surrounded with corrupted countries!! As you mentioned in your comment, and I agree with you %100, that Communism destroyed our “Armenian pride” and way of life in Armenia, but there is always room for them to learn from diaspora Armenians, and their reputation in foreign countries…we need to remind them more often, when ever we get a chance and opportunity!! We need more honest, ordinary people, like Maria Titizian in Armenia!!

    • Alexander "Who Tries to be Great" said:

      Corruption is everywhere, some hide and some even that do hide it, are ratted on through media by other corrupt peoples. Think of it as a tool that everyone uses. All US rich family or oligarchs/elites were thieves/murders that had to kill and steal to become rich and mighty. So we need people that are good and bad, to balance out the equilibrium.

      • Elka Ronec said:

        Alexander: I agree with you that your country needs honest (and I would like to add intelligent) people like Maria Titizian. I would suggest young Armenians obtain some of their education abroad not only to obtain knowledge in their area of interest but to open their hearts and minds and experience life in a socially democratic society. Intelligent, compassionate and forward thinking ideas then can be communicated by many to their friends, community, future colleagues etc. Young people can make a change for a better future when they are enlightened from experience. Family values are often not enough to make a significant contribution to society. It takes many people, a significant populace to want to make a difference and then to be able to carry out the mandate. Maria and I were classmates in Toronto, Canada. Education is rich and valuable in Canada from grade school to university. One has contact with students, teachers, professors whose roots are from every corner of the world.

  3. Elka Ronec said:

    Mr. Megerdumian, I would like to add to your discussion. Unfortunately, those in power who carry on the norm of corruption in Russia and in the former soviet bloc satellites are for the most part the same people or their family members and friends of former communist regimes (the communist hats were merely replaced by their capitalist caps). Their dirty work is carried out through coercion, bribes (desperatw people can often be bought), threats of violence, expulsion….the same destructive actions during the dreaded communism regimes. Worse now is destructive power has no boundaries–even in democratic, free world, thesr same powers can influence people loyal to them. A way of life, one’s behaviors, often a way of survival cannot easily be changed…it is embedded in the psyche. I have met people of my generation from the former Soviet Union who have told me that corruption was the norm in government institutions, every other person was KGB or someone who could report you to the authorities because of jeakousy, vengeance, that you can only trust yourself, often not even family because of paranoia, mistrust caused by sick social system that masked under “equality”, communism but resulted in pervasive violation of human rights, rule by force through fear, religion and positive personal and sicial values forced underground, racism accepted. I was born in former Czechoslovakia and escaped with my family shortly after “Prague Spring” to live in free, democratic Canada–my parents dream for a better life. The people in the west originally from behind the Iron Curtain, know what life was like before communism, from their parents, suffered through world wars and then again suffered through communism’s realities of black market, if you were in the party you were privileged in your possessions and in your corruption.
    Sadly, as destructive power has no boundaries (Putin’s political opponent forced to live in UK, etc.) it is a reality that even in democratic countries, their allies or people they buy continue to carry out their dirty work.

  4. Peter Megerdumian said:

    It is important to note that if Armenia had transitioned from a communist system to a Western socialist democracy like Sweden, it may have had a much better chance of survival. The great shame is that those politicians who were honest were assassinated. As I mentioned before, when Armenians live in a corrupt country, they tend to learn corrupt ways.A great example of this are Iraqi-Armenians. Iraq has always been an extremely corrupt country and corruption was the way things were done and are still done. Many millions of dollars simply disappeared from Iraq. The Iraqi Armenians also learned the corrupt ways of their Iraqi Arabs. It was this extreme corruption that allowed Iraqi factions to be bought by western powers creating the mess that exists today.

  5. Elka Ronec said:

    I agree with you Mr. Megerdumian. Sweden is a shining example. Unfortunately, when corruption is so pervasive in a country like you mentioned, Iraq, it will take more than education to change that way of life. Often it takes a generation with new people in governments, new legal institutions, revised education system, community information to see positive changes even if the desire is there for “change for the better”.