YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian told the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber on Friday to press harder for the prosecution of state officials suspected of embezzling public funds and engaging in other corrupt practices.
Visiting the parliamentary oversight body, Sarkisian said many Armenians are rightly wondering why abuses uncovered by it in various government agencies rarely translate into criminal cases. The Audit Chamber should therefore “work more actively” with law-enforcement bodies, he said.
“State officials can be forgiven many things, but an official laying his hands on public funds must be [seen as] the most disgusting person in our society,” Sarkisian told chamber officials. “I’m not saying that the Audit Chamber must draw up a list of concrete officials deserving criminal proceedings and immediately send it to the prosecutor’s office.
“What I’m saying is that we must be very serious about what we say and consistent in having the problems uncovered by us eliminated in full. This is a highly important thing.”
Sarkisian already acknowledged shortly after taking office in 2008 that the lack of prosecutions of government officials on corruption charges has undermined public trust in the stated crackdowns on corruption. Local and international anti-graft groups say government corruption in Armenia has remained just as widespread since then.
The Armenian president also urged the head of the Audit Chamber, Ishkhan Zakarian, and his subordinates not to bow to pressure from corrupt officials or their influential patrons. “We are a small people, a small state, and I think just a few hours is enough for people to find ways of influencing any official,” he said. “Each of us must be able to say ‘no’ to their friend, relative, loved one or any state official.”
Speaking at the meeting, Zakarian said the chamber has inspected virtually all ministries and other government agencies and reported 21 instances of embezzlement warranting criminal prosecution to state prosecutors. He said it helped to return 1.13 billion drams ($3 million) in embezzled or wasted public funds to the state budget in 2008 and is currently in the process of recovering money allegedly misused last year.