Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday appointed chief of his Surveillance Service Hovhannes Hovsepian head of the government-affiliated State Revenues Committee (SRC).
The SRC, a body in charge of collecting taxes and customs fees, was separated from the Finance Ministry by Sarkisian’s decree on March 1.
The agency was part of the Ministry after its previous head Gagik Khachatrian was appointed finance minister in June 2014. The merger then was criticized by opposition circles and some leading economists as risky considering the conflict of interests of the tax collecting and budget spending institutions.
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) effectively admitted the risks involved in having two such agencies under the same roof after Sarkisian’s latest decision. Vahram Baghdasarian, the head of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, explained on Wednesday that the step was also conditioned by a cooperation agreement recently signed with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in which the two parties pledged to fight corruption and separate business from power. He, however, strongly denied that it had to do with Khachatrian, whose family is known to have extensive business interests.
The new chief of the SRC is known as a Sarkisian loyalist who has worked at a high position in the presidential administration for eight years. He was also deputy head of the “Yes” campaign headquarters ahead of last year’s constitutional referendum in which amendments that the opposition claims will ensure Sarkisian’s continued political clout after he leaves his current office in 2018 were officially approved in a nationwide vote.
Earlier this week, another pro-Sarkisian deputy campaign manager Levon Yolian was appointed minister of energy and natural resources.
It is remarkable that Hovsepian, 43, would make strides in his career especially during the period of major nationwide elections. Some two months before the disputed 2008 presidential election in which Sarkisian controversially won his first presidential term Hovsepian was appointed deputy minister of local government. Opposition members in Armenia claim it is this ministry that uses its extensive administrative resources in the regions to sway elections in favor of the ruling party or a government candidate.
Two months after the bloody suppression of post-election protests in March 2008 Hovsepian was promoted chief of the Presidential Surveillance Service.
According to Hovsepian’s declaration of incomes submitted to the Ethics Commission on High-Ranking Officials, during the past five years he received donations of more than $3 million from persons unknown to the general public and has never submitted a declaration of his wife’s property, which is also required by Armenian law.
President Sarkisian today personally introduced Hovsepian to his new staff. Remarkably, to his new office the newly appointed chief of the SRC arrived on a posh Mercedes-Benz S-Class car. According to Hovsepian’s declaration, in 2015 he sold one such car for $150,000 and purchased a Range Rover for $120,000. His declaration, however, has no mention of his current Mercedes-Benz car.
At the meeting with the SRC staff, President Sarkisian again spoke about reforms, stressing that the main indicator of the agency’s effective work under the new leadership will be the ratio of collected taxes and gross domestic product.
“It is no coincidence that I’ve personally come here today to introduce the new head of the Committee. This means that I will always be ready to personally take part in the process of finding solutions to problems that emerge,” Sarkisian stated, in particular.
Hovsepian’s security personnel did not allow RFE/RL’s Armenian Service to approach him for an interview today.