The controversial head of the Armenian government’s tax collection agency, Gagik Khachatrian, said on Thursday that an inquiry launched by a state anti-corruption body is the result of a long-running smear campaign targeting him.
The state Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials announced on Monday that it is investigating the head of the State Revenue Committee (SRC) for a possible conflict of interest stemming from his ownership of lucrative businesses that has long been alleged by Armenian media. It said it launched the inquiry earlier this month in response to a request by the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian branch of the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International.
The ACC in turn cited an article published in the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” last October. The article contained a long list of companies which it said are controlled by Khachatrian.
Khachatrian, who has repeatedly denied owning businesses, declined to directly comment on the probe after attending a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “Ask the Ethics Commission,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Khachatrian did say, though, that he is the victim of a smear campaign that was “planned long ago.” He did not specify who he thinks is behind that campaign. He only accused the media of having “invented” companies belonging to him.
Meanwhile, the anti-corruption commission told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Khachatrian has already submitted written explanations requested by it. The body based at the presidential administration building in Yerevan refused to disclose them. It is due to announce the results of its inquiry by May 10.
In a recently circulated annual report, Armenia’s state human rights defender, Karen Andreasian, said that owning businesses is the norm among tax and customs officials. The report said some of the companies belonging to them or their cronies enjoy privileged treatment by the tax authorities, undermining their competitors. The SRC denied that, saying that the ombudsman failed to come up with any concrete examples.