By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia’s Economic Court has added to a controversial government crackdown on a provincial television station that has been facing uncertain future since providing airtime to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian about two months ago.
The Gyumri-based GALA TV was accused by the State Tax Service (STS) last month of underreporting its advertising revenues over the past two years to avoid paying more than 25 million drams ($82,000) in taxes. GALA’s parent company, Chap, rejected the accusation as baseless and politically motivated.
The STS responded by asking the Economic Court to freeze the company’s bank accounts and other assets worth the alleged tax shortfall. The court rejected the demand on November 26 only to reverse its stance a week later. Issuing the injunction late Monday, it cited “additional documents” submitted by the STS in support of the case against GALA.
“Our bank account is frozen and we are unable to pay employees’ wages,” Vahan Khachatrian, the owner of GALA and Chap, told RFE/RL on Tuesday. “But we intend to continue our work. All the employees understand that this is a temporary problem. I don’t think we will face serious difficulties.”
Khachatrian suggested at the same time that the court issued the order under government pressure. “Something probably happened [in the period between the two verdicts.] I think they put additional pressure on the court,” he said.
GALA is also facing another, more serious STS accusation: that it has been illegally using a TV tower in Gyumri to broadcast its programs to Armenia’s second largest city and surrounding areas. Late last month the Gyumri mayor’s office asked the Economic Court to force the TV channel to remove its transmitter from the tower. The court is scheduled to open hearings on the case on December 17.
The accusations were brought as a result of a financial inspection of Chap’s operations conducted by the STS shortly after the TV station broadcast 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, as a paid advertisement, the September 21 speech that marked the former president’s return to active politics.
Khachatrian claims 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. The commission denies this.