YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


ANOTHER LITIGATION VERSUS “GALA” TV COMPANY STARTED

On December 17 at the RA Commercial Court hearing of the suit of the Gyumri
Tax Inspection versus the founder of “GALA” TV Company, “CHAP” LLC, started.
The plaintiff demanded that “CHAP” be charged the tax liabilities of 25.2 million
AMD (including the fines and penalties, and excluding the taxes already paid).

As it has been reported, on October 22 the owner of “CHAP” LLC Vahan Khachatrian
issued a statement regarding the attempts of various power agencies to exert
pressure on the TV channel. The document stressed the infallibility of the TV
channel’s stance and the readiness to prevent any attempt of intervention into
its editorial policy. One week after the statement a tax audit started at “CHAP”,
after which the RA State Tax Service reported the violations revealed. In particular,
this referred to concealed amounts of TV advertising, due to which “CHAP” must
pay approximately 26 million AMD (additionally, including the fines and penalties)
to the state budget. Vahan Khachatrian, on his behalf, announced that “GALA”
could not have the advertising volume that the calculations of the tax officers
based on, and challenged the audit results with the RA State Tax Service on
November 16. Meanwhile, on November 27, the RA Commercial Court accepted a lawsuit
versus “CHAP” from Gyumri Tax Inspection. Through a motion of the tax officers
on December 3 the property and finance of “CHAP” were taken into custody (see
YPC Weekly Newsletter, November
30 – December 6, 2007
).

At the session of December 17 the respondent motioned for the court to oblige
the Gyumri Tax Inspection to pay 400,000 AMD to “CHAP” LLC as a compensation
for the possible damages, or, should the tax inspectors refuse to pay the compensation
– release the property and the finance of “CHAP”. The motion was motivated the
fact the company has certain commitments that it is unable to meet due to the
custody. This, in its turn, can result to tax liabilities, for which the Tax
Inspection would actually be responsible. The court refused the motion. The
respondent also filed a counter-claim, demanding to abolish the act of the Gyumri
Tax Inspection on the results of audit at “CHAP” LLC, after which the session
was interrupted. The next day, on December 18, the court accepted the counter-claim,
and the both suits will be considered simultaneously.

The process of the tax audit itself was covered by “GALA” TV company. On November
6 an incident occurred between the TV company cameraman Grigor Shaghoyan and
a representative of the RA State Tax Service. The latter attacked the cameraman,
took him by the throat and tried to take the camera away. On the same day Grigor
Shaghoyan addressed the Gyumri Police Department with an appeal of his legitimate
professional activities being impeded (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, November
2-8, 2007
).

On December 12 the head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, Ambassador Sergey Kapinos
addressed a letter to the Head of the RA Police Haik Harutiunian, the Head of
the Gyumri Police Department Hakob Ghevondian and the Governor of Shirak region
Lidia Nanian, requesting to inform the OSCE Office whether a criminal case had
been filed on the incident. The letter stressed the importance of proper investigation
of the case in conformity with the Armenian legislation, which provided that
it is criminal offence to interfere with the legal professional activities of
a journalist. A prompt investigation would help in preventing other such occurrences,
the address of Sergey Kapinos said and reminded, that as a member state of the
OSCE and the Council of Europe, Armenia has committed itself to ensuring freedom
of media and the rights of journalists.

On December 18 Grigor Shaghoyan was notified that criminal proceedings will
not be instituted due to absence of corpus delicti. The notification was dated
November 30. On December 19 the Headquarters to Protect Freedom of Expression
and “GALA” TV Company, set up by Gyumri residents, released a statement, in
particular announcing its intention to challenge the decision of the Gyumri
Police Department with the Prosecutor’s Office of the Shirak region.

The founder of “GALA”, “CHAP” LLC, is also a respondent on another case, the
suit of Gyumri municipality, demanding to stop the use of the city TV tower
and to dissemble the equipment installed there. According to the results of
the tax audit, the “GALA” founder makes an illegal use of the TV tower, owned
by the city administration. Meanwhile, as the owner of “CHAP” Vahan Khachatrian
maintains that the certificate of ownership of the tower was received by Gyumri
municipality only on November 5, 2007. Till that time, in 2004-2005, he had
addressed various agencies but was unable to find the tower owner. According
to Vahan Khachatrian, he operated the TV tower that had no one take care of
since 2005, with a preliminary renovation and enforcement of the transmitter.
The attempts of the TV channel to solve the problem through negotiations remained
futile. At the hearings that started on December 10 the RA Commercial Court
declined the counter-claim of the respondent, with a demand to establish mandatorily
its right to a limited use of a TV tower. This ruling was challenged by “CHAP”
at the RA Court of Cassation, and a little later – with the higher jurisdiction
body of the RA Commercial Court. On December 13 the hearings were interrupted
until a response to the challenge is received (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter,
December 7-13, 2007).

On December 13 the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Sergey Kapinos addressed
letters to the Chairman of the RA Court of Cassation Hovik Manukian and the
Chairman of the RA Commercial Court Edward Muradian. Stating the alarm of the
OSCE Office with the latest developments with regard to “GALA” founder, Sergey
Kapinos noted, in particular: “Media’s work acquires special significance especially
before elections when the public relies on the media in getting pluralistic
information to be able to make an intelligent choice. A proper investigation
and trial of any case entailing an infringement on free media would help in
preventing other such occurrences, thereby creating a favorable atmosphere for
safe working conditions for the media.” Abstaining from efforts to intervene
in a judicial process, the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan expressed hope that
“as a result of a decision to be taken, the functioning of “GALA” TV company
will not be suspended”. This would allow the TV company to continue its genuine
goal of serving as a pluralistic source of information and contribute to overall
freedom of expression situation in the country, the letter said further.

On December 13 one of the coordinators of the Headquarters to Protect Freedom
of Expression and “GALA” TV Company, the Chairman of the Board of the “Asparez”
Journalist’s Club of Gyumri Levon Barseghian offered Gyumri Mayor Vardan Ghukasian
to sign a trilateral reconciliation agreement. It was proposed that the municipality
give up the dispute resolution in court and rent the TV tower to “GALA” “for
a reasonable payment” or allows installing appropriate equipment of the TV company
at the tower. On his behalf, Levon Barseghian committed to paying the rent for
27 months that have elapsed since the TV company had started using the tower,
upon the condition that the municipality does not stipulate tariffs higher than
those for similar services. On December 17 Levon Barseghian was informed that
the municipality thinks the price of 200,000 AMD ($ 1 is equal to 306 AMD) to
be “reasonable” for each of 27 months that have passed. The statement of the
HQ, released the same day, December 17, noted that the charges of the municipality
are “intentionally increased” – they are more than six times as high as the
tariffs applied in similar cases. Taking into account all circumstances (the
height on which the antenna is placed, the investment that “CHAP” LLC has made
into the TV tower renovation, etc.) the HQ believes the charges for the TV tower
use during all the past months should not exceed 1 million AMD, and the rent
for its use now – 30,000 AMD per month. The HQ declined the municipality proposal,
qualifying it as “unreasonable” and as a “little trick”, aiming to fail the
reconciliation. “In the context of such disruption of a trilateral agreement
we believe it proved that the Gyumri municipality, headed by its Mayor, is completely
integrated in the large-scale plot to deprive “GALA” TV company of air”, the
statement says. Nevertheless, the HQ announced the proposal of Levon Barseghian
is still valid.

On December 19, at the Theater Square of Gyumri, a rally was held by the Headquarters
to Protect Freedom of Expression and “GALA” TV Company, in which representatives
of media, public, also journalistic organizations of Shirak and Lori regions
as well as of Yerevan took part.