Case of European Court of Human Rights, October 22, 2020 (case ARTASHES ANTONYAN v. ARMENIA)

Defense:ARMENIA
Resolution Date:October 22, 2020
SUMMARY

Violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 - Protection of property (Article 1 para. 1 of Protocol No. 1 - Peaceful enjoyment of possessions)

 
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FIRST SECTION

CASE OF ARTASHES ANTONYAN v. ARMENIA

(Application no. 24313/10)

JUDGMENT

Art 1 P1 • Peaceful enjoyment of possessions • Prescribed by law • Imposition of administrative fine for breaching customs regulations • Regulation not in itself insufficiently foreseeable • Judiciary expected to clarify applicable provision according to circumstances of each case • Government interpretation unsupported and contradicting findings of the Court of Cassation • Failure of domestic courts to properly assess vital circumstances of case • Application of regulation insufficiently foreseeable

STRASBOURG

22 October 2020

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Artashes Antonyan v. Armenia,

The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Ksenija Turković, President,Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos,Aleš Pejchal,Armen Harutyunyan,Pere Pastor Vilanova,Tim Eicke,Jovan Ilievski, judges,and Abel Campos, Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the application against the Republic of Armenia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by an Armenian national, Mr Artashes Antonyan (“the applicant”), on 3 May 2010;

the decision to give notice to the Armenian Government (“the Government”) of the complaint concerning the lawfulness of the fine imposed on the applicant and to declare inadmissible the remainder of the application;

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 29 September 2020,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

INTRODUCTION

  1. The present case concerns lawfulness of imposition of an administrative fine on the applicant for violation of customs regulations and raises issues under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

    THE FACTS

  2. The applicant was born in 1954 and lives in Kajaran. The applicant was represented by Ms M. Ghulyan and Mr A. Karakhanyan, lawyers practising in Yerevan.

  3. The Government were represented by their Agent, Mr G. Kostanyan, and subsequently by Mr Y. Kirakosyan, Representative of the Republic of Armenia to the European Court of Human Rights.

  4. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

  5. On 20 September 2005 a company called ZPMK (“the Company”), which was the applicant’s employer, purchased technical equipment in the Russian Federation.

  6. On 21, 24 and 26 October 2006 the equipment was imported into Armenia.

  7. On 30 October 2006 the applicant, acting on behalf of the Company, filed a customs declaration with the State Customs Service (“the Customs Service”) for the imported technical equipment.

  8. On an unspecified date the head of the Customs Service ordered a review of the lawfulness of the imports performed by the Company since 2006.

  9. On 30 July 2008 officers of the Customs Oversight Department of the State Revenue Committee (“the Revenue Committee”), following the review, produced a statement, which revealed that the Company, on a number of occasions, had indicated inaccurate classifications and incorrect codes in respect of the imported goods. As regards the customs declaration of 30 October 2006, it was stated in the statement that the declared price of the imported equipment was 194,823 US dollars (USD), whereas the actual price of that equipment was USD 1,461,176.

  10. On 16 October 2008 the officers of the Customs Oversight Department of the Revenue Committee transmitted the results of their review to the Investigative Department of the Revenue Committee, for further action.

  11. On 17 October 2008 an officer of the Investigative Department of the Revenue Committee initiated administrative proceedings in respect of the applicant by drawing up a record of a breach of customs regulations, in which it was stated that on 30 October 2006 the applicant, acting on behalf of the Company, had declared the price of the imported equipment inaccurately. The applicant’s actions therefore appeared to amount to a breach of Article 203 of the Customs Code (“the CC”).

  12. On 27 October 2008 the head of the Investigative Department of the Revenue Committee, with reference to the results of the review carried out by the officers of the Customs Oversight Department and the administrative proceedings initiated in respect of the applicant, held that the applicant, having inaccurately declared the price of imported goods, had committed an administrative offence under Article 203 of the CC and decided to fine the applicant in the amount equivalent to the value of the inaccurately declared equipment, that is to say 579,506,236.48 Armenian drams (AMD).

  13. On 27 December 2008 the applicant lodged a claim with the Administrative Court, seeking partial invalidation of the decision of 27 October 2008. The applicant submitted that the contested decision had been unlawful as it had been adopted in breach of the two-month prescription period set down in Article 37 of the Code of Administrative Offences (“the CAO”). He argued that the review conducted by the Revenue Committee on 30 July 2008 had already revealed all the elements of a breach of customs regulations, and the deadline for imposing a fine for this breach had therefore expired on 30 September 2008. In such circumstances, the applicant argued, Article 247 of the CAO barred the Revenue Committee from initiating proceedings against him, while any pending proceedings should be terminated.

  14. On 19 January 2009 the Revenue Committee, in its turn, lodged a claim with the Administrative Court against the applicant, seeking enforcement of the decision of 27 October 2008 and payment of the fine.

  15. On 28 August 2009 the Administrative Court dismissed the applicant’s claim and allowed that of the Revenue Committee, finding that the applicant, as a representative of the Company, had violated Article 203 of the CC and ordering him to pay the fine imposed by the Revenue Committee, namely AMD 579,506,236.48. As regards the two-month prescription period set down in Article 37 of the CAO, the Administrative Court held as follows:

    “... [T]he court concludes that the fact that the [the applicant] had breached customs regulations was discovered and became clear only on the basis of the record of a breach of customs regulations drawn up on 17 October 2008 by [the investigator of the Investigative Department of the Revenue Committee], which recorded the fact of [the applicant’s] committing the offence. The relevant administrative fine was imposed on [the applicant] within two months of the date of discovery of the offence, namely on 27 October 2008.”

  16. On 28 September 2009 the...

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