Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading Armenia’s second largest governing party, on Monday lambasted and branded as incompetent a government minister who stated recently that the economic crisis in the country is over.
According to government statistics, the Armenian economy grew by 2.4 percent on the year in January after contracting by 14.4 percent in 2009. Trade and Economic Development Minister Nerses Yeritsian seized upon the figure to declare the end of a serious economic downturn that gripped the country more than a year ago.
“Nobody in the world is saying today that the economic crisis has ended, [what many are saying is] it’s possible that there will be a second phase of the economic crisis,” Tsarukian told journalists. “Even those states that have had economic growth … are not daring to say such a thing.”
When asked to comment on Yeritsian’s remark, he scoffed: “He is not in the right position and he has no knowledge of the economy and the country’s economic situation.”
“The president of the country knows that and he is taking corresponding steps,” the tycoon added without elaboration.
There was no immediate reaction to the blistering attack from President Serzh Sarkisian’s office or the government. Yeritsian is widely regarded as a figure close to Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which is represented in Sarkisian’s cabinet by three other ministers, has criticized in recent months some of the reformist premier’s initiatives aimed at tackling widespread tax evasion. BHK opposition was one the reasons why the government heavily watered down last month a controversial bill that would empower local self-government bodies to set and collect new taxes.
“The economic crisis is not over,” insisted Tsarukian. “We must make sure that taxes are softened, rather than toughened, and some laws are frozen. This is a normal practice all over the world.”
The BHK leader, who is thought to be close to former President Robert Kocharian, has long been accused by his detractors of large-scale tax evasion. Modest revenues posted by several dozen small and large companies controlled by Tsarukian still contrast with his status as one of Armenia’s wealthiest men.