Monday, 24 September

Slip of the Tongue: Parliament Speaker Abrahamyan Shoots Himself in Foot

Assets of Abrahamyan and Others Should be “Nationalized”

The problem isn’t that RoA National Assembly President Hovik Abrahamyan owns several businesses and that the government seeks to make them answerable to the tax laws of the land. The real problem is who and why Hovik Abrahamyan wound up as President of the National Assembly in the first place.

Take a look at the road he travelled to get there. No of the former positions he held would have afforded him the opportunity to amass millions of dollars in assets. It turns out that he used his official positions to amass such profits. Essentially, he used the levers of the state to do so.

Whether mayor, regional governor or minister of territorial administration, an official holding such positions shouldn’t have had the time to engage in business. But this is what he did and only later did he carry out the task assigned him; to secure votes at election time for previous and current administrations.

“He carried out his work well. He was good at organizing things,” say his former and current team mates. Just how did Hovik Abrahamyan amass such resources, all those apartments in Yerevan and hundreds of hectares of land? How did he get his hands on mining operations and real estate overseas? Everyone knows all this didn’t come to him through legal means.

Hetq has obtained a copy of Mr. Abrahmayan’s 2007-2008 financial disclosure reports. In the report, under the heading “Other Income”, the sum of $1.2 million is listed from the sale of agricultural goods during his post as Minister of Territorial Administration.

During this time, he also received a huge private house in Tzaghkadzor as a gift. Today, the parliament president is constructing another house in a garden plot abutting Babayan Street in Yerevan. How did he get his hands on this 2,500 square meter parcel? Naturally, it was the result of a decision adopted by the Yerevan mayor’s office.

Such examples of questionable practices are abundant when it comes to the activities of Mr. Abrahamyan. Generally speaking, the parliament speaker is a very cautious individual, aware of what is happening around him. Why he lost his cool this time and made some misstatements is unclear.

He underestimated the loyalties of those around him and never expected that his sincere outbursts would be taped, winding up on the desk of the president. What exactly did Abrahamyan utter to get him in such a pickle? “I will become president and I will appoint you my prime minister,” a starry-eyed Abrahamyan is reported to have told Gagik Tsarukyan, an in-law by marriage.

Should we be amazed that Abrahamyan has such a healthy appetite for power? He achieved becoming the parliament speaker, so why shouldn’t he set his eyes on the prize of becoming president? Many in Armenia have similar dreams. At one time a wealthy Armenian businessman in Russia had illusions of becoming the “President of All Armenians”.

However, Abrahamyan has shot himself in the foot by expressing such desires out loud. One would think that against the backdrop of such developments the time has come for some to raise the issue of “nationalizing” the ill-gotten gains of such government officials.

And the nationalizing of such assets must start with the President of the RoA National Assembly and his deputies, followed in turn with sitting MP’s. The voters must be told how their so-called legislators have amassed such resources. When representatives of the government talk about the struggle against corruption I immediately point to the legislature as a prime example and say – there they are, let’s get to work.

They quickly side-step the matter, arguing that corruption is a widespread social ill and that specific examples need not be raised or discussed. But I am totally convinced that corruption is a disease of the state. No wonder, then, that the government isn’t interested in specific examples when the finger points directly at them.

The many apartments and private homes owned by the RoA President of the Parliament need to be nationalized and converted into, say, nurseries, or made available, at reduced rates, to young families just starting out or to families who lost breadwinners in the Artsakh War.

Former government ministers also have amassed huge fortunes and these too must become the focus of the tax authorities. We can start with Grigor Poghpadyan and Garen Ayvazyan, ending up with the likes of Gagik Martirosyan and Carlos Petrosyan.

These can serve as examples so that current ministers decide against dipping their hands in the state coffers and spend their evenings thinking of ways to get rich at the expense of the people. Future officials will realize that even if they misuse their positions for personal aggrandizement, their ill-gotten gains will be taken from them and returned to the state coffers. Many say that it can’t be done, that it’s like going hunting for ghosts. Not at all.

The laws on the matter are quite clear. It is just a matter of prosecuting those who violate such laws. Such a proposal of nationalizing the ill-gotten gains of government officials could serve as the core of the election campaign of various political forces in the next round of elections in Armenia.

Of course, you would be hard-pressed to find a political force whose hand are clean and haven’t been dipping into the state cookie jar.

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