Several dozen market traders rallied outside the Armenian parliament on Tuesday to protest against new government rules that require them to pay more taxes.
The traders mainly selling clothing at open-air markets in Yerevan have paid fixed monthly taxes until now. Citing Armenia’s new Tax Code, the State Revenue Committee (SRC) informed them recently that they will now be taxed under a different mechanism that will measure their business turnovers. For that purpose, the government agency has introduced standard accounting rules and other extra paperwork for them.
The small business owners gathered outside the parliament building in Yerevan after a series of meetings with SRC officials that attempted to address their concerns. They insisted that the new rules are too cumbersome and they cannot afford paying more taxes as a result.
“I would have to hire an accountant to write all that stuff,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The SRC chief, Vartan Harutiunian, dismissed these complaints, accusing the protesters of trying to evade taxes. Harutiunian claimed that they have rejected SRC offers to provide them with free accounting services. “Everyone must pay taxes in a manner defined by the law,” he told reporters inside the parliament building.
Harutiunian also claimed that the traders’ discontent is fomented by unnamed well-to-do individuals. He did not name any of them. He only made clear that he did not refer to Gagik Tsarukian, one of the country’s richest men who owns a market where most of the protesting traders sell goods.
A figure close to Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, Harutiunian pledged to crack down on widespread tax evasion in Armenia after he was named to run the SRC one year ago. The SRC reported a nearly 10 percent increase in various taxes collected in the first nine months of this year.
In Harutiunian’s words, large companies accounted for as much as 85 percent of the government’s tax revenue. He asserted that tax fraud is now more widespread in retail trade than among wholesale trading firms.
The SRC chief has made no secret of his and his family’s business interests. In particular, his two young sons are major shareholders in a new agribusiness firm that was granted import tax breaks by the government earlier this.
Harutiunian angrily denied journalists’ suggestions that this amounts to a conflict of interests. “My sons are building greenhouses and fruit gardens,” he said. “Why shouldn’t they? Don’t they have a right to live in this country?”