An independent television station based in Armenia’s second city of Gyumri alleged a fresh government attempt to force it off the air on Friday after tax authorities froze its assets and bank accounts over allegedly unpaid taxes.
Citing the same reason, the State Revenue Committee (SRC) also impounded this week new equipment purchased by the GALA TV channel from abroad. The SRC claims that the private broadcaster owes it 822,000 drams ($2,100) in fines imposed for its failure to pay taxes dating back to 2007-2008.
Vahan Khachatrian, the GALA owner, denounced the measure as illegal and insisted that his company has no outstanding tax obligations. “We are not going to pay those fines,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service “We consider them baseless.”
GALA was already accused of tax evasion shortly after breaking ranks to provide paid airtime to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in September 2007. A fund-raising telethon in early 2008 allowed it pay almost 27 million drams in fines imposed by tax authorities and thus avoid closure.
GALA last month accused authorities in Gyumri of forcing local businesses to stop buying commercial airtime from what is the only TV channel that regularly airs criticism of the Armenian government. Khachatrian claimed that the tax dispute is part of another government effort to pull the plug on his TV station.
The SRC, meanwhile, denied on Friday any political motives behind its accusations and punitive measures against the channel. “The GALA TV company is not receiving special attention from the State Revenue Committee, and we treat the company in the same way as we treat other economic entities,” it said in a statement.
The SRC’s recourse to asset freezing suggests that the government agency will soon ask a local court to enforce the fine.