Azerbaijan's customs committee failed to register some $24.8bn worth of imports between 2010 and 2015, resulting in some $5bn worth of losses for the state budget in customs taxes, an investigation by Meydan TV revealed on August 16.
The investigation compared trade data, as reported by the Azerbaijani customs committee and by the UN trade agency, Comtrade, finding a $24.8bn discrepancy between what the former reported ($55.1bn) and what the latter did ($79.9bn).
While some variations in trade reporting are common, due to factors like date of order placement, transport and insurance costs, the difference in this case was high enough to make the customs committee suspect of underreporting imports, and therefore of tax evasion.
Azerbaijan's customs office is widely believed to be one of the more corrupt institutions in the country, with several officials who have served on the committee becoming oligarchs in their own right. The most famous of them is Kamaladdin Heydarov, the country's former head of customs and current emergency situations minister, who operates a business empire comprising canning factories, construction companies, hotel chains, tourism company, restaurants, retail operations and even a piano factory. He is widely considered to be the richest man in the country.
The investigation is also based on a comparison of itemised imports from Georgia to Azerbaijan in 2015, based on data collected from the Azerbaijani statistics agency and Georgia's revenue service. The comparison renders the same wide discrepancy in the number of a host of commodities like corn, horses, cattle, sand and tea.
In 2015, a similar study by economist Gubad Ibadoghlu reached the same conclusion - that there was a significant discrepancy in import-export reporting in the country. However, Azerbaijani authorities did not follow-up the findings with an investigation at the customs committee.
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