The opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) has promised a “political assessment” of an unexpected tax audit of one of the businesses belonging to its wealthy leader, Gagik Tsarukian.
Officers of the State Revenue Committee (SRC) raided a Tsarukian-owned market outside Yerevan and confiscated its financial records on Tuesday. The SRC said the search conducted at the Arinj Mall market was a part of a tax evasion investigation launched by it.
The Arinj Mall director, Samvel Hakobian, suggested that tax inspectors suspect that he has underreported daily fees collected from around a thousand kiosks selling various goods inside the market. He ruled out the possibility of such tax fraud.
The tax raid came just hours after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance and the BHK traded fresh accusations in a continuing scandal caused by a transgender activist’s speech delivered in the Armenian parliament last week. Pashinian accused a senior BHK lawmaker of organizing a “political provocation” against the parliament majority loyal to him. Tsarukian and his associated rejected the accusation.
Gevorg Petrosian, a senior BHK figure, said later on Tuesday that the SRC investigation may well be politically motivated. “We think that the [former ruling] HHK’s ‘good traditions’ are continuing,” he told reporters at Arinj Mall. “Whenever there is some political escalation it reflects on Tsarukian’s businesses. This smacks of political persecution.”
In a statement, the SRC denied any political motives behind the probe.
Petrosian seemed unconvinced by these assurances when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They confiscated documents and after studying them will say whether or not a [tax evasion] alert received by them is substantiated,” he said. “When they voice their evaluation we will come up with our political evaluation of that.”
The BHK finished second in the December 2018 parliamentary elections and holds 26 seats in Armenia’s current 132-member parliament.
Tsarukian’s party supported last spring’s “velvet revolution” and joined Pashinian’s first cabinet formed in May 2018. Pashinian fired his ministers affiliated with BHK in October, accusing the party of secretly collaborating with the HHK.