RFE/RL Armenian Report – 04/01/2021

                                        Thursday, April 1, 2021

Prosecutors In No Rush To Seek First Asset Seizures

        • Naira Bulghadarian

Armenia - An abandoned hotel complex in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor 
nationalized by the Armenian government in 2019.

A senior prosecutor indicated on Thursday that Armenian law-enforcement 
authorities will likely wait until the end of this year before trying to 
confiscate assets of former officials suspected of illegal enrichment.

A controversial law enacted by the Armenian government last year allows 
prosecutors to seek asset forfeiture in case of having “sufficient grounds to 
suspect” that the market value of an individual’s properties exceeds their 
“legal income” by at least 50 million drams ($95,000).

Courts can allow the confiscation of such assets even if their owners are not 
found guilty of corruption or other criminal offenses. The latter will have to 
prove the legality of their holdings if they are to retain them.

The politically sensitive process is handled by a special division formed within 
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General last September.

The head of the division, Siro Amirkhanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that 
it has investigated more than 200 individuals and believes that at least five of 
them had illegally enriched themselves or their families.

“There is already enough evidence to file lawsuits [against them] in courts,” 
said Amirkhanian. He refused to name any of those individuals, saying only that 
they are well-known figures.

Amirkhanian said his team is planning to appeal to new Armenian courts that will 
deal only with corruption cases. The special courts are due to be established by 
the end of this year.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly portrayed the law on asset 
forfeiture as a major anti-corruption measure that will help his administration 
recover “wealth stolen from the people.” Pashinian has indicated his intention 
to use it against the country’s former rulers and their cronies.

Opposition groups and figures, among them supporters of former President Serzh 
Sarkisian, have condemned the law as unconstitutional and accused Pashinian of 
planning a far-reaching “redistribution of assets” to cement his hold on power.

Sarkisian, several other former senior officials and their relatives are already 
facing corruption or fraud charges rejected by them as politically motivated. 
None of them has been convicted so far.

One former official, who used to run the Armenian customs service, decided to 
“donate” a luxury hotel belonging to his family to the government in late 2018 
to avoid prosecution on charges of illegal entrepreneurship and money 
laundering. The government has repeatedly failed to auction off the property 
which was valued at $15.8 million before the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities Unfazed By Concerns About AstraZeneca Vaccine

        • Narine Ghalechian

Vials labeled "AstraZeneca COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and a syringe are seen 
in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo, March 10, 2021.

Health Minister Anahit Avanesian said on Thursday that Armenian authorities will 
start administering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine later this month despite 
lingering questions about its safety.

Armenia received on Monday the first 24,000 doses of the vaccine from COVAX 
Facility, the World Health Organization’s global vaccine-sharing scheme. The 
Ministry of Health said they will be made available to medical workers, care 
home personnel, persons aged 65 and older as well as younger people suffering 
from chronic diseases.

More than a dozen European countries halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine last 
month after reports linked it to a rare blood clotting disorder in a very small 
number of people. Some of them, including Germany and France, resumed 
inoculations after the European Union’s drug regulator said it is safe.

Avanesian said that there has been no scientific evidence of grave side effects 
caused by the vaccine.

“We will use AstraZeneca and all other vaccines which are effective and meet all 
safety requirements, according to the findings of international expert bodies,” 
she told journalists.

“Some countries have temporarily stopped using a certain amount [of vaccine 
shots] while others have again started doing that. There are also countries that 
never refused [the AstraZeneca vaccine,]” she said.

Armenia -- Health Minister Anahit Avanesian speaks during a cabinet meeting in 
Yerevan, March 11, 2021.

Avanesian said the Armenian health authorities will therefore start distributing 
the vaccine to policlinics across the country on Monday. Policlinic medics are 
already being trained to properly inoculate individuals eligible for the first 
shots, added the minister.

The authorities are launching their first vaccination campaign amid what they 
describe as a third wave of coronavirus infections that has overwhelmed Armenian 

The Ministry of Health reported earlier on Thursday that 28 more people infected 
with COVID-19 have died in the past 24 hours. It registered almost 1,100 
single-day coronavirus cases.

Avanesian said that the hospitals will set up this week an additional 300 beds 
for COVID-19 patients in need of intensive therapy. “Hospital beds are not 
unlimited,” she warned.

Armenia -- Healthcare workers wearing protective gear are seen outside the Nork 
Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Yerevan, June 5, 2020.

So far only several hundred people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus 
in the country of about 3 million.

The Armenian government reportedly plans to buy 15,000 doses of the Russian 
Sputnik V vaccine. It is also understood to expect more vaccine deliveries 
through the COVAX scheme.

But the government has given no indications that it is planning to inoculate 
most Armenians this year. Avanesian implied in February that people not included 
in “high risk” categories of the population will have to pay for their 
vaccination at private medical centers.

Armenian Parliament Approves Changes To Electoral System

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia - The Armenian parliament debates amendments to the Electoral Code, 
Yerevan, April 1, 2021.

The National Assembly approved on Thursday major amendments to Armenia’s 
Electoral Code which some opposition parties say are aimed at helping Prime 
Minister Nikol Pashinian win snap parliamentary elections expected in June.

The government-backed amendments passed in the first reading changed the legal 
mechanism for electing the country’s next parliament.

Armenians have until now voted for not only parties and blocs but also their 
individual candidates running in nationwide constituencies. In the last two 
general elections, parliament seats were equally distributed among candidates 
picked through national party lists and individual races.

The amendments backed by only pro-government lawmakers mean that the forthcoming 
elections will held only on a party list basis.

Pashinian announced last week his administration’s decision to switch the 
electoral system to a fully proportional one. He claimed that none of the two 
opposition parties represented in the current parliament objects to that.

However, one of those parties, Bright Armenia (LHK), spoke out against changing 
the electoral system.

LHK leader Edmon Marukian accused Pashinian and the ruling My Step bloc of 
resorting to partisan gerrymandering when he spoke during a short parliament 
debate on the proposed amendments. He said the authorities must not hastily 
change the “rules of the game” less than three months before the anticipated 

“I am officially declaring that from now on the legitimacy of the elections is 
in doubt,” Marukian said. “With your new Electoral Code you are digging your 
political grave. This will be your end.”

Marukian also said that earlier this year the parliament’s pro-government 
majority drafted different amendments to the Electoral Code and sent them to the 
Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for examination. “You have fooled the 
Venice Commission,” he charged.

Ruben Rubinian, a senior My Step lawmaker, rejected the criticism. “Yes, the 
rules of the game are being changed right before the elections, but they are 
being liberalized,” he said.

Rubinian argued that Marukian himself advocated the abolition of individual 
constituencies as recently as in 2018.

The other parliamentary opposition party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), has not 
publicly backed or opposed the amendments. BHK deputies did not take part in 
Thursday’s debate and ensuing vote.

Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2021 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.


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