By Atom Markarian
Three large companies controlled by European and Russian investors continue to top the list of Armenia’s 300 leading corporate taxpayers, having paid a combined 12 billion drams ($27 million) in taxes and import duties in the first quarter of this year.
Official figures show that their financial contributions to the Armenian state budget still by far exceed the amount of taxes paid by some of the country’s wealthiest businessmen close to the government.
The latest taxpayer list, made public by the State Taxation Service (STS), is topped by Armenia’s largest mining enterprise based in the southeastern town of Kajaran. According to it, the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine, 75 percent of which is owned by Germany’s Cronimet metals group, transferred just over 5 billion drams to STS and the State Customs Committee during the three-month period.
The mining giant is followed by ArmenTel (3.8 billion drams), the Greek-owned national telecommunications company, and the ArmRosGazprom natural gas operator (3.2 billion drams). The latter is controlled by Russia’s Gazprom gas monopoly.
Two Armenian-owned companies specializing in fuel imports are in fourth and fifth places, having paid less than 2 billion drams each. Among other top ten taxpayers are the Lebanese-owned wireless operator VivaCell, the Russian-owned Armenian electricity distribution network and the Metsamor nuclear power plant.
Other taxpayers, which are considered big by Armenian standards, include smaller fuel importers, tobacco companies, liquor and soft drink manufacturers and even a car dealership. Virtually none of them is owned by Armenia’s so-called “oligarchs,” millionaire businessmen that like to flaunt their wealth.
Of the 300 firms mentioned by STS only five are known to be fully or partly owned by the most influential of those oligarchs, Gagik Tsarukian. Their total first-quarter contribution to the state treasury stood at just 350 million drams ($790,000). That includes 87 million drams in taxes paid by a big cement factory owned by Tsarukian. The Soviet-era factory located in the southern town of Ararat reportedly operates at its full capacity, exporting much of its production to Iran and even Iraq.
Armenia’s second cement company, owned by fuel tycoon Mikhail Baghdasarov, was not included on the list at all.
Another tycoon, Samvel Aleksanian, has long enjoyed a de facto monopoly on imports of sugar, wheat and cooking oil to Armenia. But despite the highly lucrative character of the business, Aleksanian’s Fleetfood company is only 32nd in the STS rankings, with 245 million drams ($550,000) in taxes paid during the period in question.
STS began disclosing corporate financial statements last year in the hope of reducing widespread tax evasion in Armenia by publicly embarrassing those companies that post suspiciously low earnings. The deputy head of the agency, Armen Alaverdian, insisted on Tuesday that the practice has been a success, while admitting that many local businesses continue to grossly hide their revenues.
Alaverdian told RFE/RL that STS will soon publish a separate list of Armenian companies that claim to operate at a loss. The tax authorities suspect more than a hundred of them of engaging in fiscal fraud, he said.
(Photolur photo: Tsarukian, right, talking to Baghdasarov.)