YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian appointed the new chief of the Armenian customs on Wednesday, a move that came on the heels of his harsh criticism of rampant corruption among customs officials.
The State Customs Committee (SCC) will be run by Gagik Khachatrian, who has until now worked as its deputy head.
The previous SCC chief, Armen Avetisian, was fired shortly after Sarkisian took office on April 9. During his tenure the SCC solidified its reputation as one of the country’s most corrupt government agencies. Nonetheless, Avetisian’s sacking came as a surprise given the fact that he has long been regarded as Sarkisian’s prot?g?.
The new Armenian president acknowledged and deplored "thriving" corruption within the SCC at a high-profile meeting with its leadership held on April 17. Sarkisian said customs officials abet smuggling to illegally enrich themselves and penalize importers refusing to pay kickbacks. He threatened to fire those of them who will fail to "work honestly."
Although the blistering attack was not followed by sweeping personnel changes, local businessmen involved in import operations say that the scale of bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices in the customs has decreased considerably over the past one-and-a-half months. Many of them wonder if the change is irreversible.
In other news, President Sarkisian appointed Hovhannes Hovsepian as head of the President’s Oversight Service.