YEREVAN — Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) reports that the customs officer of the Pre-clearance Control Department of Bagratashen checkpoint and head of the same department’s shift are arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into the case of smuggling of agricultural products into Armenia and receiving bribes by the officers of Armenia’s State Revenue Committee, which caused a great damage to the country.
Apples bearing Azerbaijani labels were first discovered in some food stores in Yerevan late last month, causing a stir in the Armenian press and on social media. Some commentators decried the discovery on moral grounds, saying Armenia must not buy any products from a country with which it remains in a de facto state of war.
Many others pointed out that the imported apples were not taxed and did not undergo mandatory safety inspections at the border. The Armenian State Service for Foodstuff Safety cited this fact when it confiscated hundreds of kilograms of the fruit from stores and markets.
The State Revenue Committee (SRC), which comprises the national customs service, officially stated on April 26 that its customs checkpoints on Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Iran did not formally process any Azerbaijani imports. It said afterwards that customs officers at the Bagratashen border crossing with Georgia took kickbacks to allow the smuggling of the apples.
An SIS statement did not specify the amount of the alleged bribes or the physical volume of the smuggled agricultural produce.
The law-enforcement agency reported on Wednesday that criminal charges have been levelled against four other persons who it said smuggled the Azerbaijani apples via Georgia from January through April. It accused them of evading more than 7.3 million drams ($15,000) in taxes.
The head of the SRC, Vartan Harutiunian, took responsibility for the alleged smuggling operations at a news conference held earlier on Thursday. “Perhaps it was also my failing,” he said.
The tax and customs chief also said that customs controls at Bagratashen and other border crossings have been tightened as a consequence of the smuggling scandal.