Piles of passports like these can be seen in various photo shops throughout Yerevan, passports of those citizens of Armenia who have agreed to join the political party Prosperous Armenia . The heads of local chapters collect the passports in exchange for promises of well-being to their fellow citizens, and employment to the unemployed. This activity is personally supervised by two party leaders who also happen to public officials, Chairman of the State Committee on Physical Fitness and Sport Ishkhan Zakaryan and by Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Vardan Vardanyan. Which means that we as taxpayers are paying these men their salaries to work for Prosperous Armenia instead of performing their official duties.
Rather than bringing citizens one-by-one to the photo shops, the heads of the local chapters of Prosperous Armenia collect their passports and place orders with the photo-shops to make two copies of each passport picture, which they then attach to the registration cards of the newly recruited party-members. For local party bosses who recruit the most people, there are financial rewards and higher ratings within the party.
This process began last March. At that time, the local party bosses who collected the passports arranged a deal with the photo shops to pay 250 Drams for each two photos. But they were getting 500 drams from the headquarters, and thereby swindling their boss, Gagik Tsarukyan. Now that the membership of Prosperous Armenia has reached 150,000 and the amount spent on pictures is no longer negligible, functionaries at party headquarters have begun to address the issue. They have come to realize that a passport picture can be copied for 50 drams, having already spent some $100,000, no small amount even for Tsarukyan.
Last March Hetq asked all political parties registered in Armenia for information regarding their financial resources and their annual budget.
According to Article 28 of the Law on Political Parties, all parties are required to publish in the media their annual financial reports no later than March 25 th of the following year. We asked the party leaders to provide us with the name of the media outlet where their accounts for the year 2004 were published and the publication date. At the same time we asked to send us their reports for the year 2005 or to name the newspaper where the information was to be published. Only eight parties responded to our inquiry; Gagik Tsarukyan's Prosperous Armenia, the financial activity of which is largely in the shadows, was not among them.
According to our information, Prosperous Armenia has 43 local chapters in Yerevan, each with its own office and at least three employees, who since April 2006 have been paid a monthly salary of $100. This means that the party has created 129 jobs in Yerevan alone. But these employees are not registered and don't pay any taxes. The money that pays their salaries must come from Tsarukyan's shadow business; otherwise he would have published the reports and would not be concealing his employees.
Prosperous Armenia has published its program in the press. But when you look at the party's financial activity it becomes clear that its program provisions have nothing to do with reality. No laws exist for Gagik Tsarukyan. No one from any state agency can go to the party headquarters and say that certain laws are being violated. One thing that Armenian oligarchs know for sure is that money determines the law.
What the owners of all these passports fail to grasp is that all the handouts from the oligarchs are at the expense of unpaid taxes. But the taxes are supposed to support hospitals, schools, the army, pensioners. These taxes are supposed to pay the salary of the president of the republic as well. By handing over their passports, these citizens of Armenia are becoming unwitting accomplices to tax evasion and lawlessness.