By Shakeh Avoyan
New owners of expensive cars will now be able to legally buy license plates with their preferred numbers, instead of using their government connections or paying kickbacks, the Armenian government announced on Thursday.
The government approved the measure in an apparent bid to end widespread corruption and nepotism in the distribution of what many wealthy Armenians regard as a badge of prestige.
Their luxury cars typically have license plates with three or more repeating and easy-to-remember numbers. In fact, some of the country’s wealthiest businessmen have effectively monopolized entire number combinations and variations for their extended families and closest associates. Their motorcades consist of SUVs with virtually identical five-digit plates.
Obtaining so-called “gold” numbers is believed to have required, at least until now, high-level government or police connections and, more importantly, hefty informal payments to senior police officers. Local motorists say the most prestigious of them have cost as much as $2,000 or even more.
The government decision, effective from September 1, is clearly supposed to end the practice and make sure that the hefty sums end up in the state budget. The Armenian traffic police will now have to hold special auctions for the coveted license plates. Ministers instructed the police to officially define “gold” number combinations, classify them into several categories and set their price ranges within a month. Officials said information on all exclusive license plates put up for sale will have be posted on the police website before the planned auctions.
Ishkhan Ishkhanian, the chief of the traffic police, already predicted the starting price of the most expensive category: 1.2 million drams ($3,500). He said he thinks there will be no lack of people willing to pay an even higher price.
“I can tell from my experience that we Armenians have some attachment to numbers such dates of birth, dates of marriage,” Ishkhanian told reporters. “And I’m not talking about a particular segment of the population. A large number of our citizens really care about numbers.”