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Armenian Premier Vows To Expose Corrupt Officials

Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian
YEREVAN -- Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has pledged to crack down on wealthy and corrupt state officials in order to strengthen the rule of law, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian said in a year-end press conference on December 25 that he stands by his reform agenda that emphasizes tackling tax evasion, improving the country's business environment, and, in particular, breaking up oligopolies that monopolize key sectors of the economy.

The de facto monopolies are widely believed to be controlled not only by wealthy businessmen but also high-ranking government and security officials. Local antigraft campaigners say this is the root cause of government corruption in Armenia.

"I think we can conclude, together with you, that officials engage in business nowadays," Sarkisian said.

He complained that current laws make it all but impossible for officials to expose and punish officials with extensive business interests of dubious origin, and said that's why the government does not "publicize names and prompts us to create and introduce...[legal] mechanisms that would address this problem."

Sarkisian added that "we are going to fight against oligopolies rather than

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also increasingly stress the importance of tackling the oligopolistic structures. Officials from both institutions have warned in recent months that Armenia cannot return to the path of robust growth without combating government corruption and creating a level playing field for all businesses.

Sarkisian again defended the government's response to the global economic crisis that has plunged Armenia into its worst recession since the 1990s.

The Armenian economy is on track to contract by at least 15 percent this year. But the government has predicted that economic growth will resume in Armenia in 2010.