There will be Integrity Check (vetting) of officials: Q&A with the Ministry of Justice on this topic

15/04/2020 Font

 -The Government has announced about implementing a vetting. What steps have been carried out, and which institution will be implementing this function?

 -The term “Vetting” which received large acknowledgment among the public, in line with the Constitution is projected in the package of amendments to the Constitutional Law “Judicial Code” and related laws which has been adopted by the National Assembly and is with signature by the President of Armenia.

In case of candidates claiming certain positions, it is described within the integrity check mechanism, and in case of some officials, including judges, within the mechanism of declarations analysis, or, in other words, check of property status.

The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC) is responsible for integrity check and check of property status. In cases and in accordance with the procedure established by the law, the Commission shall conduct analysis on integrity of candidates for members of the Supreme Judicial Council, candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court, persons subject to appointment due to the Law on Public Service, and as a result present corresponding recommendations. Though the recommendations of the Commission are of an advisory nature, they can become a basis for the candidates not to be appointed to a certain position.

  - Does integrity check apply only to candidates for judges? Won't it apply to the acting judges?

- As for the acting judges, members of the Supreme Judicial Council and the judges of the Constitutional Court, competencies of the Commission have been defined in the legislative package, according to which the Commission will check the declarations of the abovementioned persons: it should be noted that this process will involve all the declarations submitted during these years.

In other words, the Commission will check the property status of the mentioned persons by detailed analysis of the declarations and data comparison. It should be noted that the expanded toolkit envisaged by the legislative package may be applied by the Commission for the analysis of the declarations submitted after 1 July 2017, and the declarations submitted before that period may be analyzed in accordance with the current legislative regulations. In case of detection of violations as a result of the analysis of the declarations, the Commission is to take appropriate measures, as well as notifying the law enforcement bodies about a possible criminal offense. The latter must be implemented in case of doubt about the possibility of a criminal offense concerning an analysis of the declaration submitted within any period, regardless of the date of the declaration being analyzed.

It is noteworthy that after the entry into force of the legislative package awaiting the signature of the President of RA, the substantial violation of the provisions of the declaration may lead to disciplinary liability and become basis for termination of the powers of the mentioned group of officials. It should be highlighted that the procedure of imposing disciplinary liability for a judge has been improved. Thus, the CPC has been included in the list of bodies authorized to initiate disciplinary proceedings - in case of detection of problems with declarations on property, income and interests. Moreover, the Disciplinary Committee consisting of judges only will be replaced by the Ethics and Disciplinary Commission, which will include not only judges but also lawyers with high professional qualities nominated by non-governmental organizations.

Procedure of the integrity check of the judges has also been regulated. Instead of SJC, the right to the evaluation has been given to the commission set up specifically for integrity check of judges, which will consist of judges and lawyers-scientists. If the commission finds a disciplinary violation as a result of the integrity check, it may apply to the Ethics and Disciplinary Commission to initiate proceedings against a judge.

  - How will the integrity check of the candidates be carried out?

-The following mechanism will be applied: Persons, along with other documents, will submit to the competent authority an integrity check questionnaire filled in as defined by the CPC, which will include data on the person's property status, education, employment, the fact of having been brought to criminal, administrative, disciplinary liability, adherence to criminal subculture, and the Commission will file a recommendation to the person authorized to compile the databases, make inquiries to the competent bodies, compile information about a person through mass media, as well as through the study of the information published on social networks.

As for the acting officials, the Commission, within the terms defined by law after the entry into force of the legislative package, should check all the declarations submitted by the judges of the Constitutional Court, SJC members and all judges before the check. In other words, the comprehensive check of the property status of this group of officials should be carried out only because the latters hold relevant positions, i.e. the chosen mechanism is nothing but a vetting to check the property status of the persons. It is noteworthy that if, as a result of a candidates' integrity check, the Commission will make a recommendation and present it to the body authorized to appoint the candidate, then the Commission must provide the violations detected while a targeted and systematic check of property status to the criminal prosecution bodies, and in case of detection of an administrative offense within the terms established by law, it should initiate proceeding on an administrative offense. In other words, in this case, the possibility of detecting violations increases, and from the point of view of consequences, the detection of such violations can even lead to criminal liability.

It should be emphasized once again that the legislative package envisages new grounds for initiating disciplinary proceedings regarding the violation of the requirements of the declarations, on the basis of which disciplinary proceedings may be initiated. In the future, this tool will be an important component of the vetting aimed at creating the possibility of terminating the powers of acting judges in case of violations.

 - What toolkit does the CPC have for brining into force its powers?

For the proper implementation of its powers under current law and for the analysis of declarations, the CPC is authorized to request and receive from state and local self-government bodies, Central Depository and other persons entitled to run the Personal Property Securities Register, credit bureaus information and documents related to the declarant and members of his/her family, except for the cases envisaged by the Law of the Republic of Armenia “On Banking Secrecy”.

As for the legislative package adopted by the National Assembly, after the entry into force of the regulations envisaged by it, the Commission within the process of analyzing declarations will have the right to request and receive information constituting bank and insurance secrecy, credit information, etc. from the Central Bank of Armenia. At the same time, the Commission will have the opportunity to exercise the above-mentioned competencies during the integrity check, which already has a clear procedure established by law. One of the core functions of the Commission is the detection of corruption crimes, in particular, cases of illegal enrichment of the officials and their family members.

In this regard, the CPC, as the legal successor of the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials, has the right to analyze any declaration, and the declarations submitted after July 2017 (articles establishing liability for violation of declaration norms and criminalizing illicit enrichment came into force on 1 July 2017), with the tools defined by the legislative package.

In this regard, it should be noted that if as a result of the analysis of any declaration submitted after 1 July 2017 the Commission concludes that there are obvious features of corruption, the case should be immediately submitted to the Prosecutor General's Office. The further developments of the case are under the law enforcement bodies, but the main signal should come from the Commission.

As already mentioned, the Commission has the right to analyze the declarations submitted before 1 July 2017, with the difference that during their analysis the additional tools for the analysis envisaged by the legislative package, as well as the articles of the RA Criminal Code entered in force after 1 July 2017 will not be applicable. However, this does not exclude the possibility of doubts about other criminal violations during the analysis of the declarations in line with the current regulations, as well as the possibility of obvious inconsistency with the declaration submitted after 2017, in this cases the Commission, like any state body, should apply to law enforcement bodies.

In the end, it is necessary to mention one more important tool, which was provided to the Commission within the scope of the above-mentioned package. In particular, if, as a result of the analysis of the declarations, there are doubts that the significant changes in the property status of a declarant or a member of his/her family are not reasonably and legally justified, or there is an undeclared or incompletely declared property, or the source of income is not legal or credible, then the Commission is authorized to request a situational declaration of property and income from a close relative or relative-in-law of the declarant, from any person who is a party to declared transaction or transaction subject to declaration, from a person who may own the real estate, vehicle or expensive property within the meaning of the Law on Public Service of the declarant. This institute is called to eliminate the vicious practice of registering property in the name of third parties and to increase the efficiency of the declaration system.

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