YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenian tax authorities have launched a fresh investigation into companies that are thought to be controlled by a controversial parliamentarian affiliated with former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
The largest of those companies, Katrin Group, has long enjoyed a virtual monopoly on imports of bananas to Armenia. It was founded by Mihran Poghosian, a former head of an Armenian state body enforcing court rulings. He was elected to the parliament on the HHK ticket last year.
Shortly after mass protests swept Sarkisian from power in April, the State Revenue Committee (SRC) launched a tax evasion inquiry into Katrin Group and three other firms linked to it. They promptly admitted failing to pay a total of 600 million drams ($1.2 million) in taxes, leading the SRC to close the criminal case.
The SRC announced on Tuesday that it has reopened the probe after discovering evidence of greater tax evasion on the part of the four business entities. All of them will now undergo fresh and “complex” audits, the national tax and customs service said in a statement.
A deputy head of the SRC, Rustam Badasian, declined to speculate about the amount of further unpaid taxes suspected by SRC investigators. “This is what the new audits will be conducted for,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Poghosian could be summoned to the SRC for questioning, added Badasian.
Poghosian did not answer phone calls and could not be reached for comment. Independent media outlets have for years accused him of having extensive business interests thanks to his government position and connections. He has denied that.
Poghosian, 42, resigned as head of the State Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts in April 2016 shortly after it emerged that he controls three shadowy companies registered in Panama. The Special Investigation Service (SIS) launched at the time a criminal investigation into the revelation made by the Hetq.am publication. The latter cited leaked documents known as the Panama Papers.
The SIS said in January 2017 that it will not press criminal charges against Poghosian because it has found no evidence of his involvement in “illegal entrepreneurial activity.” Shortly afterwards, the ruling HHK nominated him as a candidate for parliamentary elections held in April 2017.
The current head of the SRC, Davit Ananian, promised a tough crackdown on companies and individuals underreporting their earnings when he was appointed to run the government agency in late May. The SRC claims to have recovered more than 20 billion drams ($42 million) of unpaid taxes from 73 companies since then.