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From ‘insurance fraud’ to ‘uranium smuggling’: Armenia getting bad international press lately
By Naira Hayrumyan
ArmeniaNow correspondent
Corruption and allegations of Armenia’s ties with international criminal groups are becoming a headache for authorities in Yerevan.
Government representatives say that high-profile revelations are made for putting pressure on the Armenian authorities in foreign-policy issues, such as the Karabakh and Armenian-Turkish relations. What is clear now is that these issues will at least be used by the local opposition in domestic political struggle.
Levon Zurabyan, a senior member of Armenia’s main opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) told reporters recently that the subject of the scheduled opposition rally on November 9 originally announced as human rights had been altered and the Tuesday rally would address the social situation, the exposure of “the regime’s links with international criminal groups.” Armenia and international crime have been discussed also in international media. The Guardian, one of Britain’s leading national dailies, ran a story on Monday about the botched attempt by two citizens of Armenian to smuggle a small amount of highly enriched uranium into Georgia – “the stuff that nuclear warheads are made of.” The Armenians are said to have intended to sell the HEU to a group posing as Islamists (in fact representatives of Georgian special services). The incident happened in April, but its details were disclosed only on Sunday in a closed-door trial in Georgia. Armenian National Security Service spokesman Artsvin Baghramyan said on Monday that the enriched uranium smuggling case was disclosed “in close cooperation between the special services of Armenia and Georgia”. He said still in April a citizen of Armenia, Garik Dadayan, was arrested as part of the case and a criminal case was brought against him. The two citizens of Armenia on trial in Georgia pleaded guilty to smuggling charges and face at least ten years in prison. In general, the subject of ‘Armenian’ crime became active in international media after October 13 when dozens of members of a criminal syndicate were arrested and charged in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States over a large-scale government medical insurance fraud. The backbone of the group were immigrants “with substantial ties to Armenia” or Armenian citizens. They were charged with a multi-million fraud through stealing personal data of thousands of doctors and patients. Later, ANC coordinator Zurabyan claimed that criminal groups in Russia and the U.S. had direct ties to authorities in Armenia, who had turned the country into “a money laundering heaven.” The government in Armenia has brushed aside such allegations. Still, Armenia’s authorities are concerned about corruption phenomena. In recent years, complaints and tendencies in the spheres of education and healthcare have become worrisome and dangerous; corruption in these two sectors has deepened, said Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan at a recent cabinet meeting. He demanded personnel changes in the ministries of agriculture, education and health. For his part, President Serzh Sargsyan leveled harsh criticism at the customs and tax authorities and demanded reform of the system.


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