“Law enforcement must meet our people’s legitimate expectations” - PM holds consultation on corruption
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Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held a consultative meeting to discuss the ongoing fight against corruption and the steps to take ahead. The heads of law enforcement agencies attended the meeting.
The Premier made a speech, in which he stated:
“Dear Colleagues, I am glad to see you. I have invited you to once again discuss the current state of our affairs in the fight against corruption. In May, 2018, Armenia declared an uncompromising campaign against corruption, which was approved both at home and abroad. However, I have stated on several occasions that despite the unprecedented scale of the anticorruption campaign, I am not satisfied with its results. I am convinced that the public is not satisfied with its results either. At the same time, I deem it important to emphasize that I mean not only the court rulings issued on corruption cases, but also the return of money stolen from the state and our people.
To begin with, I would like to substantiate the unprecedented drive in the fight against corruption. Noteworthy is the statistics made public by the Special Investigation Service. Accordingly, a total of AMD 4,331 million was recovered in the criminal proceedings instituted in 2019, which is the sevenfold of the amount recovered by the Special Investigation Service throughout its previous activities. We have the same or approximately the same situation in other law enforcement agencies.
The National Security Service restored to the Treasury 1371 percent more money in 2019 than in 2017. The Investigative Committee boasted a 462 percent rise in 2019 as compared to 2017. Police recovery was as much as 10767 percent higher in 2019 than in 2017.
The statistics is truly impressive, if not sensational. But when we translate them into absolute figures, we can see that since the non-violent, velvet, popular revolution of 2018 we have restored USD 150 million in corruption cases at the most optimistic estimate, including the amounts recovered in the proceedings launched by the State Revenue Committee’s investigations department.
By the way, here too, we have a problem with the statistics, and I have to rely on approximate figures. Anyway, let us just take the aforementioned 150 million as a base. If we subtract the recoveries made by the State Revenue Committee, our arithmetic will be halved.
Why did I cite the State Revenue Committee’s statistics under a separate chapter? I did so as it is hardly possible to make a distinction between recovered net tax liabilities and purely corruption-associated receipts.
Now let us see whether based on the above statistics we can claim that the recoveries effectuated over the past 1.5 years adequately reflect the damage caused to the Republic of Armenia for the last 30 years as a result of corruption crimes.
My answer is unequivocal: no, again and again, no. In the meantime, I have taken note of all objective and subjective factors faced in the process of investigation: lack of expert capacity, heavy workload, length of the process, etc. I cannot help but admit that some of these explanations are actually objective and justified.
But on the other hand, time is running out, and the slowness of our law enforcement system allowed some corrupt figures to flee from Armenia, while others found so badly needed loopholes to hide and conceal criminal evidence.
There are more egregious situations when companies involved in corruption transactions or owning corrupt assets obviously belong to one or more former or current senior officials, but our law enforcement agencies did not find any incriminating evidence to prosecute them.
This completely discredits our law enforcement system and the fight against corruption in general. The situation is aggravated by the fact that a number of key witnesses, even suspects and defendants, have fled the country, due to which the ongoing probes into these cases have come to a standstill, or are facing such a threat.
I will not conceal my assessment and make it clear that one of the key reasons for such a situation is that we have traitors and saboteurs in the highest ranks of law enforcement agencies who were guided by other consideration under the guise of fighting corruption.
My question is whether we can guarantee today that the law enforcement system is fully operational in its investigative and operative-intelligence activities, in the fight against corruption. Unfortunately, I cannot give a positive answer.
The time has come for us to deeply analyze and evaluate the results that we have for the last 1.5 years in our fight against corruption, especially as regards the return of embezzled public funds.
Yes, in purely percentage terms we boast unprecedented volumes and achievements here. But unprecedented implies something never stated or recorded. We should acknowledge and put on record that there had never been a real fight against corruption in Armenia before, and therefore comparison with something inexistent can in no way be considered a reasonably profitable business.
The Republic of Armenia has lost several billions of dollars due to high-level corruption, and as the leader of Armenia, I have the people’s mandate to bring back those billions. Therefore, I expect that the law enforcement agencies will live up to our people’s legitimate expectations by tapping the full potential of investigative and operative intelligence capacity.
That the Republic of Armenia has suffered from corruption is an internationally acknowledged fact. Under rather scandalous conditions, the World Bank recently published a report entitled “Elite Capture of Foreign Aid,” which listed those countries where a significant proportion of foreign aid has been misappropriated and moved to offshore zones by local elites.
As you might guess, Armenia is in the top twenty of these countries. The blacklist features Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ghana, Guyana, Guinea-Bissau, Zambia, Mauritania, Niger, Uganda, and other countries where peoples suffer from endemic corruption.
But we need not read the reports of international experts to have an idea of homemade corruption, because much of those funds were embezzled before people’s eyes, and our law enforcement system should give an appropriate legal wording to all known truths.
Dear colleagues, I invite you to discuss these issues, and hope that we will be able to find positive answers. Let me give another important clarification: All of this cannot be interpreted and should not be interpreted as having negative implications on legal entrepreneurship in Armenia.
Business and economic activity must be fully protected from any unlawful interference in Armenia. Lawful business is only asked to pay legitimate taxes. Our motto remains the same: “Get rich and enrich others,” and we will provide all necessary conditions for this.”