By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s state anti-trust body announced on Monday an official investigation into a huge discrepancy between car imports statistics released by customs authorities and private car dealerships.
The State Customs Committee has reported that a total of nearly 16,500 cars were imported to Armenia last year, more than two thirds of them by private individuals that typically resell second-hand European cars in the local market. According to it, the remaining 5,520 or so cars were brought in by Armenian companies that usually operate as official distributors of Western and Russian automakers.
However, the 43 dealerships registered in the country claimed to have imported only a combined 552 cars in their separate reports demanded by the State Commission on Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) as part of its study of the Armenian car market.
“The commission finds this figure suspicious,” SCPEC spokeswoman Armine Udumian told RFE/RL. “There is therefore a need for an additional examination of the market for imported cars.”
But Udumian cautioned that the reported discrepancy it does not necessarily indicate large-scale tax evasion on the part of the dealerships. She suggested that many of the cars delivered to Armenia by them might be registered in the name of private individuals that had ordered them in advance. “The dealers might thus be avoiding additional paperwork,” she said.
Still, the conflicting data are certain to spark allegations that the importers grossly evade taxes by underreporting their business turnover and resulting profits. Armenian importers, especially those who have a de facto monopoly on wholesale trade in fuel, wheat and sugar, have long been suspected of doing this.