YEREVAN -- Two former senior Armenian Environment Ministry officials have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for corruption, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
A Yerevan court found Tigran Grigorian, the former head of the ministry's State Ecological Inspectorate, and his deputy, Arsen Petrosian, guilty of receiving kickbacks from mining companies and sentenced them to seven and 10 years in prison, respectively.
Grigorian and Petrosian were arrested in late December after police found some 5 million drams ($13,700) in cash in their offices.
Prosecutors say they received the money from a mining enterprise in the northern town of Akhtala in return for drastically reducing a 202 million-dram fine slapped on the company for violating environmental-safety regulations.
Petrosian was also charged with extorting 400,000 drams from another company inspected by his agency.
Both men denied the accusations before and during the trial. They said the decision to reduce the fine was made by Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian after a meeting with Akhtala's top executives.
Grigorian claimed that 3.7 million drams paid to him by the company was a loan rather than a bribe.
Grigorian's defense attorney, Artur Ghazarian, told RFE/RL that his client had not yet decided whether to appeal the sentence. Petrosian, for his part, made clear through his lawyer that he will take his case to the appeals court.
The prison sentences are among the harshest punishments for government corruption ever given by an Armenian court.
Senior government officials are rarely prosecuted on corruption charges. That is widely seen as a key reason why graft remains a serious problem in Armenia despite repeated crackdowns announced by successive governments.
Armenian police say they opened some 550 corruption-related criminal cases last year, up by 40 percent from 2008. The number of state officials put on trial and imprisoned as a result is not known.