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Vahe Sarukhanyan

Yerevan Deputy Mayor Faces Criminal Proceedings In Public Service Law Case

Armenia’s Corruption Prevention Commission (CPC) has sent materials in the case of Yerevan Deputy Mayor Tigran Avinyan to the General Prosecutor's Office, after which criminal proceedings were initiated.

After being appointed Yerevan deputy mayor last September, Tigran Avinyan has remained chairman of the board of the Armenian National Interest Fund (ANIF), a state-created entity that works to attract investors to Armenia, often co-financing projects with private investors.

At issue is whether this violates various public service laws. The press in Armenia raised the matter of “incompatibility” in its pages.

Before the CPC initiated proceedings, ANIF responded to press publications, stating that Avinyan's combination of two positions was within the limits of the legislation, because according to the Law on Public Service, "a person holding a public position (in this case, Deputy Mayor T. Avinyan - "Hetq") can be included in the board of directors of a commercial organization with 50% or more RA participation, if it is directly related to the implementation of the policy in the field of his position, without receiving remuneration or compensation in any other way. In this regard, ANIF stated that it is a commercial organization with 100 percent state participation, and the chairman of the board of directors, Avinyan, does not receive a salary.

However, the most important circumstance is that, as required by the Law on Public Service, a person holding a public position can be included in the board of directors of the same ANIF, if it is directly related to the implementation of the policy in the field of his/her position. When in 2018-2021 T. Avinyan was the deputy prime minister, in fact, there was no contradiction between his position and being the chairman of the board of directors of ANIF, because as deputy prime minister he coordinated the sphere in which ANIF operates.

But does being the chairman of the board of directors of ANIF have anything to do with the position of deputy mayor? According to ANIF, yes.

This is how the ANIF tried to justify this relationship in November 2022.

"Most of the current, so far unannounced, as well as future discussed programs of ANIF are directly related to Yerevan's development programs. Among them are the mobility of citizens, infrastructure, tourism, service, construction, development, and other fields. The effectiveness and liquidity of a significant part of the programs implemented by ANIF are directly related to the functions of the Yerevan Municipality. Now, several projects of attraction of new investments by ANIF are under discussion in Yerevan, which are within the scope of the direct functions of the municipality. Therefore, the combination with the status of the deputy mayor in the independent supervisory body of ANIF does not contradict the law, but also contributes to the coordination of the state's investment and implementation of existing programs."

However, the CPC had a different opinion, which became the basis for initiating proceedings against Avinyan. In the decision to initiate proceedings, the Commission cited not only the limitations of the "Public Service" law, but also the provision of the Law on Local Self-Government in the City of Yerevan that deputy mayors cannot hold positions in commercial organizations.

The CPC suspended proceedings. Why?

The deadline for the proceedings initiated in December 2022 was until March 12, 2023, which was extended by another month by the CPC. However, on April 12, when it should have become clear whether Avinyan violated the requirements of incompatibility or not, the CPC decided to suspend the proceedings. The Commission never published the actual decision but announced about it on April 17.

"The Corruption Prevention Commission, by its decision, finds that the materials obtained within the proceedings contain data that should be studied by other state bodies." This statement raised more questions than it clarified.

After the first request of Hetq, the CPC only provided a link to this statement posted on its website, but with the second request we asked the CPC to provide the actual decision to suspend the proceedings. After our inquiry, on June 8 (about 2 months after the decision was made), the CPC published it on its website, blocking some parts.

It is mentioned in the open sections of the decision of the CPC that Tigran Avinyan became the chairman of the board of directors of Armenian National Interest Fund (ANIF) on July 8, 2019 when he was the deputy prime minister of the Republic of Armenia (2018-2021). The CPC demanded from ANIF copies of implemented sectoral programs (including planned programs) and reports on them, as well as copies of minutes of meetings convened since the day of the formation of the board for 2019-2023.

"After analyzing the data presented, the CPC has formed a reasonable suspicion that abuses may have been committed during the company's activities, which should be the subject of a multi-faceted and objective investigation and verified by criminal procedures," the CPC noted and decided to suspend the proceedings in the case of Avinyan, and send its materials to the General Prosecutor's Office to assess them within the framework of criminal proceedings, and if there are relevant grounds, to process them. This decision, as required by law, was also sent to Tigran Avinyan.

Criminal proceedings have been initiated

The General Prosecutor's Office, in response to a request from Hetq, said that the relevant documents received from the CPC were sent to the Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) to decide whether to initiate criminal proceedings. On April 22, criminal proceedings were initiated in the ACC under passages of Article 277, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (abuse of official powers or the influence caused by them in the private sector). 

The above provision of the Criminal Code defines: "Using the powers assigned to him by legislation or the influence caused by them by an employee, arbitrator, auditor, custodian, manager or notary of a commercial or other organization of the Republic of Armenia or another state to the detriment of the interests of that organization, or not performing or improperly performing his official duty, or performing such an act, which does not derive from his powers or is beyond the scope of his powers, which caused significant damage to the rights, freedoms or legal interests of a person or organization or the legal interests of society or the state, shall be punished by a fine of up to 20 times the monthly income of the person who committed the crime, or public with work lasting 80-150 hours, or restriction of freedom for a maximum period of 2 years, or short-term imprisonment for a maximum period of 2 months, or imprisonment for a maximum period of 2 years".

Based on the decision of the superior prosecutor, the criminal proceedings were transferred from the Anti-Corruption Committee to the Investigative Committee, where a preliminary investigation is currently being conducted. According to the General Prosecutor's Office, criminal prosecution has not yet been initiated against any person within the framework of the criminal proceedings.

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