The Armenian tax authorities have suspended a financial inspection of a Yerevan think-tank that began last month as part of controversial criminal proceedings launched against its founder, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
The State Revenue Committee (SRC) began examining financial documents of the Civilitas Foundation on June 23 in connection with the money laundering case brought by the National Security Service (NSS).
The NSS claims that Civilitas failed to declare to tax authorities a nearly $2 million donation which Oskanian received from two U.S. companies last year. Oskanian strongly denies the allegations as government retribution for his strong criticism of President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration voiced in recent months.
The criminal case was opened on May 25, the day after the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), of which Oskanian is a senior member, announced its decision to pull out of Sarkisian’s coalition government.
The SRC’s tax audit was supposed to end on August 3. However, the head of the tax collection agency, Gagik Khachatrian, last week ordered SRC inspectors to suspend it for 30 days.
Salpi Ghazarian, Civilitas’s executive director, said on Tuesday that the SRC gave no reasons for the move. She said she has therefore written a letter to Khachatrian asking for an explanation.
Ghazarian suggested that SRC officials simply failed to find any evidence of tax evasion by the foundation. “I think they were issued with a very difficult [government] order,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I think that at the beginning they didn’t expect us to be as vocal and transparent as we have been on this matter.”
“They just don’t know how to proceed,” she said. “I can’t imagine that they found [compromising] facts and didn’t tell us anything about them. At the same time they can’t say they were wrong.” This is further proof that the NSS claims are unfounded, added Ghazarian.
The SRC refused to comment on the suspension on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Oskanian, who resigned as Civilitas chairman after joining the BHK in February, asked a Yerevan court to order the NSS to end the inquiry. A district court in the Armenian capital rejected the petition last week. Oskanian’s lawyers appealed the decision on Monday.
The NSS and the Armenian government have denied political motives behind the investigation.