By Shakeh Avoyan
Armen Avetisian, the controversial chief of the Armenian customs, confirmed on Friday reports that law-enforcement authorities have promised a $100,000 reward to anyone who will provide important information about a mysterious explosion outside his office.
The blast occurred on March 24 outside the State Customs Committee just minutes after a car carrying Avetisian pulled up at its entrance. An explosive device that was apparently planted under a nearby tree did not inflict serious damage on the expensive limousine.
Police described the incident as an attempt on Avetisian’s life and were ordered by President Robert Kocharian to identify its perpetrators. Nobody has been arrested to date.
Avetisian could not specify the source of the reward, suggesting only that the money would be paid from “non-budgetary sources.” “That the money can’t be paid from the budget is obvious to me,” he told a news conference.
A senior police source told RFE/RL that the bounty was personally promised by the chief of Armenia’s National Security Service, Gorik Hakobian.
The Customs Committee has linked the blast it to a crackdown on smuggling and tax evasion announced by the authorities earlier this year. But Avetisian again insisted he does not suspect anyone of being behind it.
“It had nothing to do with my personal affairs. I have no personal enemies in this country. I have very good friends, good entourage, good relatives,” he said, adding that among them are all of Armenia’s large-scale importers of basic commodities.
Import duties are vital for the Armenian government as they generate nearly half of its budgetary revenues. With corruption widespread among customs officials, Avetisian’s agency has long been accused by government critics of underreporting key imports.
Kocharian gave weight to such allegations as he met with the Customs Committee staff last January. Kocharian said he was told by his Oversight Service that officials from this and other government agencies are helping large-scale importers avoid taxes in return for kickbacks. He vowed to crack down on the practice.
Avetisian hardly improved his agency’s image when he stated that the highly lucrative imports of gasoline, sugar and wheat to Armenia fell in the first quarter of this year. Observers will wonder why the imports would go down amid continuing economic growth and a dramatic appreciation of the national currency, the dram.
(Photolur photo: Armen Avetisian.)