The National Security Service (NSS) confirmed on Tuesday that it has launched a tax evasion investigation into Armenia’s largest retail chain controlled by Samvel Aleksanian, a wealthy businessman representing the former ruling Republican Party (HHK) in parliament.
An NSS spokesperson told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the law-enforcement body is now looking to the Yerevan City supermarket chain’s financial statements and other records. The official said the NSS will give some details of the probe later this week.
Neither Aleksanian nor Yerevan City has made any official statements on the audit yet.
Aleksanian, 49, is one of Armenia’s richest men who has long effectively controlled lucrative imports of sugar, cooking oil and other basic foodstuffs. He has had close ties with the country’s former leaders, notably former President Serzh Sarkisian. The latter still heads the HHK.
Aleksanian has been a member of the Armenian parliament since 2003. He always ran for the National Assembly on the HHK ticket.
The inquiry into suspected tax evasion at Yerevan City food supermarkets followed a crackdown on corruption announced by Artur Vanetsian, the new head of the NSS, on May 19. Vanetsian pledged to target individuals who have long “stolen money from the state.”He said the NSS will also expose numerous cases of tax evasion.
The NSS arrested late last week three senior executives of a customs brokerage firm accused of failing to pay millions of dollars worth of taxes. Vanetsian promised on Monday more corruption “revelations” in the coming days.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who named Vanetsian as NSS head two days after taking office on May 8, said on Tuesday that the audit of Aleksanian’s supermarkets is part of a “process of establishing law and order in Armenia.”
Pashinian stood by his earlier statements that his government will not be waging “vendettas” against members of the former ruling regime or individuals linked to them. “But there won’t be lawlessness either,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “If anyone tries to interpret this position as a sign of our weakness they will get a crushing blow. You can be sure about that.”
“I am calling on everyone to sober up and fulfill their obligations to the state in full,” Pashinian went on. “Everyone is now exempt from corrupt obligations. But let no one think that they can deceive the state.”
The premier specifically urged businesses to voluntarily compensate the state for “taxes not paid in the past.” They had better do that before being investigated by the NSS, he said.
Meanwhile the new head of Armenia’s State Revenue Committee (SRC), Davit Ananian, clarified that the authorities suspect Yerevan City and a dozen other supermarket chains of using fraud scams to evade taxes in their retail sales of fresh agricultural produce. Ananian said he has already met their top executives and warned them to stop doing that.
“We just gave them a few days’ time to sort out their [cash register-related] program issues and move on,” he said.