President Serzh Sarkisian has appointed a figure close to Prime Minister Karen Karapetian as the new head of the Armenian government’s tax and customs services.
Vartan Harutiunian’s appointment announced on Monday followed Karapetian’s pledges to tackle tax evasion among businesses and, in particular, companies which he has said operate in a “privileged” position.
Meeting with the leadership of the country’s largest business association on September 28, the new premier said combatting the informal sector of the economy is critical for addressing Armenia’s economic problems. But he has yet to present a plan of corresponding actions.
The State Revenue Committee (SRC) has been headed by Hovannes Hovsepian for the past seven months. Hovsepian had previously held a senior position in Sarkisian’s staff. The SRC was separated from the Armenian Finance Ministry when he was named to run it in March this year.
Harutiunian, the new SRC chief, has until now managed Armenia’s national gas distribution network owned by Russia’s Gazprom energy giant. Karapetian was the Gazprom-Armenia company’s chief executive from 2001-2010.Harutiunian held other senior positions in the company during his tenure.
A source of frequent complaints by Armenian businesspeople, the powerful tax collection agency has long had a strong influence on the country’s business environment. In particular, its customs service is widely blamed for the fact that imports of fuel and basic foodstuffs to the country are controlled by a handful of wealthy entrepreneurs close to the government.
Karapetian has repeatedly vowed to improve the investment climate since he was appointed prime minister on September 13. His newly formed cabinet will present a policy program to the Armenian parliament for approval later this month.