ART City is the name of a two story supermarket in the village of Mrgavet in Armenia’s Ararat Province.
It is one of the many businesses that belong to the family of Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan.
The corporate entity that launched the supermarket is Artashat City Ltd. As of April, it is fully owned by the prime minister’s wife, Julieta Abrahamyan.
The supermarket is doing a booming business.
This reporter paid an investigative visit to the supermarket under the guise of regular customer. I brought a bottle of water to the sales clerk.
In order to clamp down on unregistered sales, the law in Armenia stipulates that a customer must be given a CRM (cash register machine) sales receipt for the purchase of any goods or services. In the case of goods, the receipt must specify the items purchased.
Naturally, the customer would want a CRM receipt since it shows the items purchased, the total AMD amount, the cash amount handed to the cashier, and any change returned.
The receipt I was given for the bottle of water wasn’t this type of receipt, but one that merely indicated the amount of the sale. (In Armenia, this is called an internal receipt) An hour later I went back and bought some more water. The cashier put the bottles in a plastic bag. When I didn’t leave the counter, she looked at me quizzically as if to say - what are you waiting for?
“Where’s my CRM sales receipt?” I asked.
The cashier silently turned, picked up an electronic receipt machine off to the side, and printed a receipt. She tossed it on the counter.
The receipt was stamped with the time of 1:10 pm. She had handed me the first legal receipt of the day. But what about the sales that had taken place before that?
It’s quite apparent that the supermarket is hiding its true sales figures by not providing the legal receipts to customers.
For the most part, customers patronizing the stores in the village of Mkhchyan (where the prime minister was born) and the neighboring town of Artashat are only given a CRM receipt when they ask for one.
It’s hard to believe that the tax authorities aren’t aware of this violation.
On May 9 of this year, at Haghtanak Park, Prime Minister Abrahamyan proudly declared in front of TV cameras that his government would see to it that the business sector in the country was put on an equitable footing for all; i.e. all business owners would be treated equally under the law.
“This, of course, will be difficult. We will have to inconvenience many of those close to us, but that’s the path we will take. We have no alternative. All of us must understand this. My close associates must understand this and that I will lead by example. This will be my principled position,” the prime minister declared.
He uttered the same thought a few days later, during a May 15 government cabinet session.
Sadly, Prime Minister Abrahamyan hasn’t followed up on his promise. Away from the limelight of TV cameras, he’s done nothing to bring the businesses owned by his family and friends into line with the law.
They continue to operate in a business market that is unequal for many – those that don’t have the right connections or influence.
When the big operators like Abrahamyan and his cronies get a ‘pass’ from the tax authorities, conveniently overlooking their financial shenanigans, it’s the mom and pop stores that get hit hard with the full brunt of the law.
They have to make up the tax revenue difference when the big guys flout the law and hide their true sales figures.
Is this the level playing field touted by the prime minister?
Top photo – Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan and wife Julieta
2nd photo – CRM receipt (left) and internal receipt
3rd photo – ART CITY supermarket in Mrgavet