Armenian Prime Minister Admits to “Problem” With Party Funding

Published: 12 March 2024

armenia-elections-posterAn election banner showing Nikol Pashinyan of the Civil Contract party, now Armenia’s prime minister, in Gyumri, Armenia. (Photo: Celestino Arce/NurPhoto/Alamy Stock Photo)

By Robert Denis

Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, admitted to irregularities in donations received by the ruling party in recent years but claimed they fall short of a crime.

“There is a problem there,” Pashinyan told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. “Is it a problem that crossed the line of the criminal code? Obviously not.”

The Prime Minister was responding to a recent investigation by OCCRP’s Armenian partner, Civilnet, into the donations received in 2022 by the ruling Civil Contract party.

Reporters showed that, according to a financial report, nearly all of the donations Pashinyan’s party received that year came from its own candidates in municipal elections, often with ten or more candidates donating the exact same amount on the exact same day.

But when journalists contacted the purported donors, many denied having contributed any money to the party.

“What donation?” said Serob Avetisyan, a local council member from Vedi, a small community about 50 kilometers from the capital Yerevan, when asked about the 1.5 million drams (US$3,700) he was reported to have given. “Maybe you have the wrong number?”

“No, no, no, in no way!” said Eduard Meliksetyan, the deputy head of the council in Loriberd, when asked if he had donated one million drams ($2,500).

In total, the donations added up to about $420,000, or just over a third of the party’s entire funding for 2022.

“I am very bitter. I consider it my duty to prevent such a thing from happening again,” Pashinyan said. “I apologize to the public, as well as to donors."

Civilnet’s story followed another investigation published by local outlet Infocom showing suspicious patterns in the party’s 2023 donor report as well, including donations from 88 local council candidates, as well as large sums of money donated by people connected to big businesses.

Last week, the local branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office had investigated the 2023 donations but found no evidence of a crime.

At the press conference on Tuesday, Pashinyan pointed out that “preliminary investigation bodies investigated and did not find any crime.”

The Prime Minister downplayed the issue and claimed that the party leadership had been totally unaware of it until the recent investigations were published.

"We’re human too, we too make mistakes,” he said.

He stated that the party was carrying out an internal investigation and that “I feel obliged to fix this situation.”