By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian denied on Wednesday reports that Greece’s OTE group plans to sell its commanding 90 percent share in the ArmenTel monopoly.
The Athens daily “Kathimerini” claimed on Tuesday that OTE is now “looking for cut-price buyers” for the Armenian telecom operator and has already attracted interest from three foreign companies. The newspaper did not give any reasons for the reported plans.
Manukian said that the information “does not correspond to reality.” Still, he reaffirmed the Armenian government’s intention to re-negotiate terms of the 1998 sale of ArmenTel to the Greek firm. OTE has bee offered to open negotiations on the issue by December 11, he said.
The government’s key preoccupation is to reconsider ArmenTel’s controversial 15-year monopoly on telecom services in Armenia. “ArmenTel should either put in place reliable telecommunications or be deprived of its monopoly,” Manukian said.
OTE’s operations in Armenia have been dogged by constant disputes with the government over telephone charges and other issues. As recently as last Friday, the Greek giant paid $1.5 million to settle a financial dispute with the Justice Ministry after the latter threatened to confiscate some of its shares. The ministry is now demanding an independent third-part audit of ArmenTel, suspecting its management of financial improprieties.
An official representing the government on the ArmenTel board told RFE/RL earlier this month that Yerevan has lost faith in OTE’s ability to modernize the Armenian telecom sector and would welcome ArmenTel’s takeover by "a more serious foreign company.”
OTE had paid $146 million for control of ArmenTel, and, according to “Kathimerini,” would agree to sell it at a much lower price.