YEREVAN -- Armenia's parliament has approved the final reading of a law aimed at tackling the organized crime bosses known as "thieves-by-law" and other organized crime-related activities such as racketeering.
The law approved on January 22 says that individuals found guilty of "creating or leading a group from a criminal subculture" and those called "thieves by law," a title traditionally given among criminal groups in former Soviet republics to kingpins, face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and the possibility of asset confiscation.
If a criminal group is created by an inmate, a thief by law, a military officer or an official, the punishment can be increased to up to 12 years in prison.
The government and Ministry of Justice are said to be looking to weaken the influence of mafia enforcers over ordinary prisoners and administer order in the prison system.
The ruling My Step political bloc voted for the law, opposition Bright Armenia party members abstained, while representatives of the opposition Prosperous Armenia party voted against the legislation.
The bill was drafted by the Justice Ministry and approved by the Armenian government in late August.
Some media reports have pointed to September riots in Armenia’s main prisons as being aimed against the government’s plans.
Inmates reportedly resisted government efforts to uncover underworld rules that have long regulated prison life in Armenia, Russia, and other ex-Soviet states.
Along with ethnic Georgians, ethnic Armenians are believed to occupy a significant place and play an influential role in the "thieves by law" hierarchy in the former Soviet republics.
Russia adopted a similar law in April 2019. In Georgia, such a law was introduced in 2004.