YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–An Armenian government minister investigating allegations that the country’s scarce natural resources are extracted in blatant violation of existing laws and regulations acknowledged on Wednesday that many of them are true. But Minister for Industrial Infrastructure David Zadoyan also said that estimates of the damage inflicted on the state are grossly exaggerated.
Zadoyan heads an ad hoc government commission set up in June to look into claims by some officials about a "relentless plunder" of natural resources–including various stones and minerals. A former minister for state property–Vanya Mkhitarian–alleged that many wealthy individuals with government connections are allowed to operate without government licenses and underreport their revenues. The abuses cost the country $50 million each year–he said.
But Zadoyan put the figure at $10 million. Still–he admitted that the government has failed to regulate the sector and that urgent measures are need to eliminate corruption there. "That the situation there is a mess is certain," he said at a meeting with top executives from mining companies operating in Yerevan and surrounding areas.
He said criminal proceedings are underway against 68 of some 400 private companies operating stone and mineral quarries across Armenia. In Yerevan alone–more than half of two dozen quarries were being exploited illegally until recently–he added.