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Watchdog Warns Of Top-Level Corruption In Armenia

Pointing the finger: Farmers in Armenia's southern Ararat region protested on September 22.
YEREVAN -- A leading anticorruption organizations says that efforts to combat endemic corruption in Armenia are doomed to fail as long as senior government officials have extensive business interests and can stifle the entrepreneurs challenging them, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Transparency International's Armenian branch director, Amalia Kostanian, told RFE/RL that the collusion between business and government is "not even a fusion" but "two in one."

The authorities, she says, prefer to bluff their way through anticorruption efforts by "punishing only low-ranking officials" to satisfy the public and foreign donors.

The authorities claim to have stepped up their declared fight against corruption in recent years by adopting various antigraft programs and forming special bodies tasked with their implementation.

But Transparency International and its Yerevan-based affiliate, the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), see no significant decrease in the scale of corrupt practices among various state officials.

"The intertwining of business and politics gives free rein to those companies that do not challenge the authorities politically and are very often drawn into various political processes," said Varuzhan Hoktanian, the author of ACC's report on Armenia.

He added that "when an entrepreneur tries to adopt a different position, he comes under strong pressure."

Armenia ranked 109th out of 180 countries covered by the Berlin-based watchdog's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.