Armenia’s controversial Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian claimed on Monday that lucrative businesses linked with his family do not enjoy privileged treatment by tax authorities headed by him.
Khachatrian again dismissed suggestions that he is unfit to lead a genuine fight against widespread tax evasion because of extensive business interests widely attributed to him. “The public does not say that. It’s you who say that,” he told reporters.
In that context, the minister spoke of his “pride” in the track record of the Armenian State Revenue Committee (SRC). He pointed to a steady growth in the government’s tax revenue during his 7-year leadership of the tax collection agency. The SRC was incorporate into the Ministry of Finance when Khachatrian became finance minister in May last year.
Armenian media reports have for years linked him with a host of lucrative businesses, including Ucom, a major Internet and cable TV service provider, two food-importing companies, one supermarket, a car dealership and a luxury watch store in Yerevan.
Citing those reports, the Armenian branch of Transparency International asked a state anti-graft body in 2013 to determine whether the SRC chief has abused his position to enrich himself. The Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials cleared Khachatrian of any wrongdoing, saying he does not formally own any of those firms.
Khachatrian insisted on Monday that they are regularly audited by tax officials just like other corporate taxpayers. “You know very well businesses belonging to my family,” he said. “You’ll be asking me the same questions during the whole 21st century and I’ll be giving you the same answer.”
“They operate under the same requirements as the country’s other businesses,” he added.
Khachatrian specifically downplayed the fact that most Armenian government agencies are connected to the Internet through the Ucom cable operator. He claimed to have had no hand in that before saying that subscription to Ucom has considerably cut the government expenditures on the Internet service.
In an April 2014 report, Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, said that tax and customs officials as well as their relatives routinely engage in business and enjoy “illegal advantages over other entrepreneurs.” Khachatrian disputed those claims.