U.S.-Armenian Businessman Arrested For Tax Fraud
Elen Chilingaryan 12.12.2011
A U.S. businessman of Armenian descent and two of his local employees were arrested at the weekend on charges of “malevolently” evading 111 million drams ($290,000) in taxes which their lawyers strongly deny.
Nareg Hartounian and senior executives of his food-importing company GH Storage Enterprise, Ani Mnatsakanian and Artur Galstian, were formally charged in a more than six-month inquiry conducted by Armenia’s State Revenue Committee (SRC). The SRC’s investigative department questioned them as witnesses until recently.
The investigators claim that GH Storage Enterprise, which is owned by Hartounian’s extended family, has engaged in tax evasion since 2009. A Yerevan court promptly allowed them on Saturday to keep the three suspects under pre-trial arrest for up to two months.
Their lawyers dismissed the charges as baseless at a news conference on Monday. One of them, Gevorg Chakmishian, noted that the arrests came shortly after Hartounian challenged the SRC allegations at Armenia’s Administrative Court.
“Nareg Hartounian has repeatedly stated that if the Administrative Court rules that the tax liabilities attributed to the company are legitimate and founded, he will pay those taxes in full,” said Chakmishian. He said his client could not have deliberately resorted to tax fraud.
Another legal counsel, Lernik Hovannisian, claimed that the businessman was arrested because the Hartounian family refused to sell a 34 percent share in a Yerevan company manufacturing watches to a group of government-linked individuals. He declined to name any of them, though.
The SRC could not be reached for further comment on Monday.
The high-profile arrests were condemned by some opposition figures in Yerevan and Diaspora Armenians. They emphasized the fact that Hartounian has for years financed charity projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and promoted Armenian culture through his Yerevan-based Naregatsi Art Institute.
Hartounian’s sympathizers also set up a Facebook group demanding his immediate release. More than 1,400 people signed up to it by Monday evening.
Diaspora Businessman Freed For Now
Elen Chilingaryan 13.12.2011
A U.S. businessman of Armenian descent and two of his local employees were released from jail on Tuesday three days after being controversially arrested on tax evasion charges.
Nareg Hartounian and senior executives of his food-importing company GH Storage Enterprise, Ani Mnatsakanian and Artur Galstian, were not cleared of the charges, though.
“The Office of the Prosecutor-General has said that that there is no more need for their arrest. It issued no written documents,” Ani Torosian, one of their lawyers, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Hartounian, Mnatsakanian and Galstian were charged on Saturday with “malevolently” evading 111 million drams ($290,000) in taxes since 2009. They denied the accusations through their lawyers.
The latter linked the arrests with a civil lawsuit filed by Hartounian against the State Revenue Committee (SRC) earlier this month. One of the attorneys also claimed on Monday that the businessman was jailed because his extended family refused to sell a 34 percent share in another Yerevan company to a group of government-linked individuals.
The arrests provoked protests from opposition figures in Yerevan and Diaspora Armenians. More than a thousand people signed a petition on the Internet demanding Hartounian’s immediate release.
Torosian suggested that the campaign was instrumental in the unexpected release of the three suspects.