By Hrach Melkumian
The ministry of culture has launched an inquiry into a financial scandal that that has kept Armenia's largest and most famous choir in turmoil for the past several months.
The longtime director and conductor of the Armenian State Academic Choir, Hovannes Chekijian, is facing a revolt by some of his 80 singers who are accusing him of misusing a nearly $200,000 assistance from a wealthy Diaspora sponsor.
The money has been allocated by Moscow-based businessman Senik Gevorgian for the past two years. His business executives in Yerevan say it was supposed to have taken the form of $100 monthly benefits to every member of the choir.
The disgruntled performers claim that they received only an average of $20 a month until last autumn when they learned about the actual amount intended by the donor. Some of them allege that Chekijian kept it under wraps to appropriate the bulk of the sum, a charge he strongly denies.
Gevorgian's Prometevs Bank in Yerevan, from which Chekijian received $8,000 of cash each month, decided to make direct payments to the performers in October, shortly after the outbreak of the row. "We feel very offended because the funds were supposed to be spent the way it was agreed," the bank's chief executive officer, Emil Soghomonian, told RFE/RL over the weekend.
But Chekijian, who is one of Armenia's most renowned musicians, insists that there was no specific agreement with Gevorgian on how the money has to be used. He said in an interview last week that he has spent most of the donations on the repair of the choir's Yerevan's premises and on its travel expenses and duly submitted all financial records to the bank. He said the bank itself had told him to set the amount of monthly benefits at $20 to avoid paying taxes on them.
But Soghomonian sharply denied the claim, arguing that Prometevs had no tax liabilities stemming from its charitable contributions. He also cast doubt on the credibility of Chekijian's financial reports.
Government officials, acting on the orders of Culture Minister Roland Sharoyan, began on Friday an inspection of the choir’s books. The ministry declined to comment on the scandal until the end of the inquiry.
Meanwhile, there were reports on Monday of Chekijian holding meetings with some of his performers and the controversy was expected to continue for days to come.