By Hovannes Shoghikian
The Armenian authorities moved on Monday to bring accusations of tax evasion and other violations against the owner of a rare TV station that provided airtime to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The State Tax Service (STS) said the Gyumri-based GALA TV deliberately deflated its advertising revenues in the last two years to avoid paying 26 million drams ($80,000) in taxes. The STS also accused GALA’s parent company, Chap, of illegally using a TV tower in Armenia’s second largest city and manufacturing fireworks in the past without a government license.
The government agency said it has uncovered the alleged violations during a detailed financial inspection of Chap’s operations. The inspection was launched shortly after GALA broadcast as a paid advertisement on October 14 a landmark speech in which Ter-Petrosian subjected Armenia’s leadership to harsh criticism. Ter-Petrosian supporters say GALA and another, even smaller local TV station were the only broadcasters that agreed to air the September 21 speech that marked the former president’s return to active politics.
The GALA owner, Vahan Khachatrian, claimed late last month that the National Commission on Television and Radio, a government-controlled body issuing and revoking broadcasting licenses, had warned him against airing Ter-Petrosian’s verbal attacks on President Robert Kocharian. He also said that officers of the Gyumri branch of the National Security Service (NSS) told GALA stop covering the ex-president’s political activities.
Khachatrian on Monday described as “false” and “absurd” the accusations that are likely to be picked up by state prosecutors. “I don’t know how they calculated that figure,” he said of the tax evasion claim.
Khachatrian admitted that his company did manufacture and sell fireworks without a license in 2001. “Why have they been silent for six years?” he told RFE/RL. “I paid about $1,000 worth of taxes to the state and the state never told me that my activities are illegal. I don’t even know if that type of activity required a license back in 2001.”