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By Atom Markarian
The Armenian parliament wrapped up Tuesday debates on a government proposal to give tax authorities new sweeping powers that would allow them to arrest and prosecute tax evaders. A government bill, which is expected to be passed by lawmakers on Wednesday, would set up a police force inside the State Taxation Service.

Under the proposed legislation, officers of the Tax Police will carry weapons and will be allowed to launch criminal proceedings against businesses suspected of fiscal fraud. Several wealthy businessmen sitting on the National Assembly largely approved the measure seen as part of the government’s promised crackdown on widespread tax evasion.

“A good thing about this is that a taxpayer will deal with only one state body and other law-enforcement structures will not have the right to interfere in business,” said Manvel Badeyan, a parliament deputy and the owner of the Vedi Alco liquor company.

“The need to create a tax police is obvious,” agreed another wealthy parliamentarian, Manvel Badeyan, arguing that tax fraud must be dealt with by a specialized law-enforcement unit. But Badeyan said the government bill should undergo some changes that would make tax police officers’ rights and responsibilities more specific.

Tax-related matters were until now investigated by various law-enforcement bodies, including an interior ministry department tasked with fighting organized crime. Businesspeople have long complained about government officials resorting to frequent inspections to extort bribes from them.

Khachatur Sukiasian, a well-known Armenian entrepreneur and also a parliament deputy, underscored those concerns when he expressed hope that the Tax Police will exercise caution.

The draft law in question is part of a package of legislative changes which the government says would complicate tax evasion and allow it to improve tax collection next year. The government’s 2003 budget calls for a 30 percent increase in state revenues.
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