Armenia’s government claimed on Monday to have found no evidence of serious tax evasion by Gagik Tsarukian’s businesses as a result of an inquiry ordered by President Serzh Sarkisian during his standoff with the tycoon early this year.
Sarkisian demanded “meticulous” tax audits of those firms on February 12 shortly after Tsarukian, then the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), threatened to stage street protests if the president went ahead with his controversial plans to amend the Armenian constitution. He cited long-running “unverified reports” about millions of dollars in taxes evaded by them.
Addressing senior members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sarkisian also cited media allegations about Tsarukian’s cover-up of “serious criminal offenses” and said he will discuss them with senior law-enforcement officials.
The tycoon, who was thought to be close to former President Robert Kocharian at the time, defied the crackdown only to capitulate a few days later. He resigned as chairman of the BHK, the second largest parliamentary force, and announced his retirement from politics in March. Not surprisingly, the BHK, stopped challenging the government, eventually deciding to endorse Sarkisian’s constitutional changes.
Sarkisian and Tsarukian seemed to have made peace in the following months, making several joint public appearances. Tsarukian recently received a state medal from the president.
According to Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian, tax authorities and other state bodies have completed their inspections of six of the seven major companies owned by Tsarukian. “We have found no major violations,” Khachatrian told reporters. He said the audits have only resulted in minor “adjustments” of their tax contributions to the state budget.
Khachatrian claimed that the financial inquiry and its findings have not been conditioned by recent months’ political developments.Hardly anyone in Armenia will trust in this assertion, however.
In his February 12 remarks that were spiced up by derogatory references to Tsarukian, Sarkisian also indicated that the BHK leader will be stripped of his parliament seat because of rarely attending sessions of the National Assembly. Tsarukian remains a parliament deputy despite having attended only one parliament sitting since then.