Owning businesses is not the norm among Armenian tax and customs officials, the State Revenue Committee (SRC) insisted on Wednesday, disagreeing with a critical report issued by the state human rights defender.
The report circulated on Monday describes as “worrisome” “numerous cases” of SRC officials engaged in entrepreneurial activity while in office. It says that some of the companies owned by them or their cronies enjoy privileged treatment by the tax authorities which undermines their competitors.
Commenting on these claims, Armen Alaverdian, a longtime deputy head of the SRC, said the office of Ombudsman Karen Andreasian failed to present concrete examples of that. “If there are indeed concrete facts, rather than speculations, they should be submitted to us so that we deal with them,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Unfortunately, we don’t get those facts.”
Alaverdian said at the same time that SRC officials are occasionally found to be doing business and punished for that but insisted that the practice is not systematic. “There are many cases where people appeal us, pointing to one or another official’s business ownership or interest,” he said. “Some of those cases were confirmed and officials were dismissed or punished otherwise.”
Many SRC officials are believed to be wealthy individuals with extensive business interests. In particular, the Armenian media has long described Gagik Khachatrian, head of the tax collection agency, as one of Armenia’s richest businesspeople. Khachatrian has denied those claims.
Alaverdian likewise claimed that the SRC chief does not own any businesses. “If a person has adult children and they engage in entrepreneurial activity, no law bans them from doing that,” he said. “Mr. Khachatrian personally does not do business. But as far as I know, people close to him might be involved in entrepreneurial activity.”
The ombudsman’s report also accuses the SRC of not doing enough to tackle tax evasion, especially among large firms owned by government-linked persons. Alaverdian said in this regard that the SRC achieved “some success” in curtailing the sizable informal sector of the Armenian economy last year. He argued that the Armenian government’s tax revenues rose by over 10 percent thanks to improved tax administration.
“But of course it would be wrong to say that this satisfies us,” added the official.