Senior Tax Official Killed In Car Blast

By Karine Kalantarian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Sept 6 2006

The Armenian government’s top official in charge of detecting and
investigating tax evasion was killed in a car explosion in downtown
Yerevan early on Wednesday.

Shahen Hovasapian, head of a State Taxation Service (STS) division
tasked with combating tax fraud, was found in a critical condition
in his government-owned car after it was rocked by the blast just
50 meters from his apartment building. He died while being rushed to
hospital, police and other security officials at the scene told RFE/RL.

They said that an explosive device planted under a front seat occupied
by Hovasapian went off just seconds after he and his teenage son
were driven away from their home. They said the driver suffered
minor injuries, while the young man survived unscathed. The blast
left a gaping hole under the car’s front seat next to the driver’s,
suggesting that Hovasapian was its main target.

President Robert Kocharian was quick to condemn the killing and link it
with Hovasapian’s professional activities. "The criminal conduct, which
is directed against the state’s efforts to toughen tax administration
and create equal taxation conditions for everyone, is extremely
condemnable and can not change the resolute state policy pursued in
that area," his spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, said in a statement.

Soghomonian also said that Kocharian issued the law-enforcement
authorities with "strict instructions to take all measures to solve
the crime as rapidly as possible."

State prosecutors immediately launched a criminal investigation into
the apparent assassination but reported no arrests in the following
hours. Law-enforcement officials refused to come up with possible
theories of the crime.

Despite holding an important government post, Hovasapian has rarely
figured in the news and is not known to have initiated high-profile
tax evasion cases against big companies controlled by influential
individuals. The assassinated official himself was a wealthy
businessman, reportedly owning one of Armenia’s two main liquefied
gas companies, Goshgaz. The other company involved in the lucrative
gas business, Multi-Leon, is controlled by Gagik Tsarukian, a powerful
government-connected tycoon.

Hovasapian, who is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh and was a field
commander during the war with Azerbaijan, is the first high-ranking
Armenian tax official killed while in office. Gagik Poghosian, who
briefly headed the government’s tax collection agency in 2000, died
in a grenade attack under similarly mysterious circumstances five
years ago. The apparent contract killing has still not been solved.

Hovasapian’s violent death continued recent months’ series of
high-profile murders that have raised widespread concern about the
situation with crime and rule of law in Armenia. Among their victims
were a businessman, a reputed crime figure and a senior member of the
influential Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans. Nobody has been
prosecuted in connection with those crimes so far.