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Entrepreneur On the Corrupt System of Legalized Bribery in Armenia: Losing Foreign Partners

What obstacles do entrepreneurs in Armenia face when they also have civic responsibilities? In the first and the second parts of the ongoing series, entrepreneur, civic activist Vardges Gaspari talked to Epress.am about his experience with Institute of Metrology, and the price controls imposed by Armenian authorities. In the third episode, Gaspary speaks about the bureaucratic complications in Armenia that often result in the loss of foreign partners.

Part 3: How to Lose Foreign Partners

After winning a tender for the supply of a remote control for a Taiwanese crane, Vardges Gaspari was faced with obstacles created by Armenian customs authorities and consequently lost his Georgian partners. Gaspari’s company, VAL Automation, was supposed to import the remote control to Armenia, clear it through customs and then export it to Georgia.

Before importing the remote control to Armenia, Gaspari, having foreseen the probability of bureaucratic complications, appealed to the Armenian finance ministry with a request to get him acquainted with the proper procedure for the import of the aforementioned product. In response, according to Gaspary, deputy finance minister Vakhtang Mirumyan gave him a “general answer.”

“I said, ‘Brother, you are not being interviewed by Haylur (a news program on Armenia’s public TV), I have given you the invoice for the specific item I’m interested in; I don’t need the general laws’,” Gaspari recounts.

The customs authorities subsequently provided Gaspari with a more specific information: to import the remote control to Armenia and to further export it to Georgia, Gaspari needed three permissions – to show that the remote control was of no military significance, was not a dual-use item, and another document from the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the National Security Service, since the remote control “is considered a cryptographic device.”

According to Gaspari, all types of remote control systems are considered to be “cryptographic equipment,” including the remote controls for gates and toy cars which are heavily featured in the Armenian market. Have all these importers been granted a permission from the National Security Service, Gaspari wonders. Anyhow, at the NSS, the entrepreneur was told that the product he intended to import did not require such a permission.

“This process lasted 10 days and 10 nights. Because I had serious contractual obligation [with my Georgian partners], I spent several days and nights at the customs office. They would tell me to go home and come back in the morning; I would reply, ‘No, I’ll wait here.’ They needed to understand that the issue was of vital importance. I am not a government official; I do not receive a salary regardless of whether I fulfill my obligations,” Gaspari tells.

In the end, only after lying on the ground and blocking the entrance to the office of the head of customs was the entrepreneur allowed to take the remote control through clearance. Because of the serious delay in the export, Gaspari’s Georgian partners later decided not to enter into any future agreements with him.