By Karine Kalantarian
The recent agreement on new telephone charges in Armenia appeared in danger of collapsing on Friday after the government accused the telecom operator ArmenTel of breaching some of its provisions.
State prosecutors said they have received a request from Justice Minister David Harutiunian to launch criminal proceedings against the management of the Greek-controlled monopoly.
The extraordinary move, which puts relations between the government and ArmenTel back on a collision course, came after the company announced that some of the agreed tariffs do not include the 20 percent value-added tax (VAT). The decision specifically applied to businesses and other legal entities that may choose to pay a flat monthly fee of 5,100 drams ($9) up front for unlimited local phone calls. By contrast, the 2,400-dram charge set for individual phone users is VAT-inclusive, the company informed its clients.
“The agreement explicitly states that all of the agreed tariffs are inclusive of VAT,” Harutiunian’s spokesman, Ara Saghatelian, told RFE/RL.
But ArmenTel officials claimed the opposite, saying that they are allowed to charge 6,100 drams per phone under the optional billing system agreed with the authorities.
Officials at the office of prosecutor-general said they have opened an inquiry into the row. A senior prosecutor, Gevorg Danielian, told RFE/RL that he does not yet see grounds for opening a criminal case against ArmenTel, which is 90 percent owned by the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE).
The latest disagreement threatens to revive tensions between official Yerevan and the subsidiary of OTE. The agreement between them, sealed on January 25 after two months of negotiations, ended a bitter dispute over ArmenTel’s plans to introduce per-minute billing for local phone calls.
The compromise deal personally negotiated by Harutiunian obligated ArmenTel to make the payment scheme optional, offering phone users alternative fixed-fee options.
The government has presented the out-of-court settlement as a major success.