By Karine Kalantarian
Nikos Georgoulas, the embattled Greek chief executive of ArmenTel, was formally relieved of his duties on Friday amid turmoil in the telecommunication monopoly and allegations of mismanagement.
Georgoulas, who had held the job since the summer of 2001, left Armenia the same day, hours before the ArmenTel board rubber-stamped a decision by its parent company, the Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE), to fire him. OTE gave no reason for the move.
But a representative of the Armenian government, which holds a 10 percent stake in ArmenTel, said it was the result of the company's falling revenues and mounting debts. Serzh Sargsian, who sits on the ArmenTel board, blamed Georgoulas for the worsening performance. "Instead of investing in the telecom sector, ArmenTel began wasting money under Georgoulas," Sargsian told RFE/RL.
ArmenTel's total debt, which stood at $45 million before its 1998 takeover by OTE, now exceeds $100 million. The money is mainly owed to foreign suppliers of telecom equipment. The government claims that the deals were made on highly unfavorable terms.
ArmenTel sources told RFE/RL earlier that the OTE management suspects Georgoulas of mismanagement and financial improprieties and intends to conduct an internal audit of its Armenian subsidiary. The Greek executive, who has faced strong government and media criticism during his work in Armenia, was in Athens for much of October.
Sources said Georgoulas, who was hired in 2001 for a three-year management contract, demanded a $240,000 severance pay, but OTE agreed to fork out only $80,000. The Greek telecom giant has not yet named a replacement for him. ArmenTel's deputy director, George Vassilakis, will run the company in the interim.
Meanwhile, government officials announced that the auction of $1.5 million worth of ArmenTel shares belonging to OTE will take place on November 13. The Justice Ministry imposed last month an official hold on OTE's entire 90 percent share after the Greeks refused to cover its $963,000 expenses on legal counseling during an ArmenTel-related litigation at the London-based International Court of Economic Arbitration in 2000.
The ministry spokesman, Ara Saghatelian, said the market value of the shares will determine what percentage of its ArmenTel stock OTE will lose. Sargsian, for his part, announced that the government will also be seeking to have OTE transfer control over ArmenTel to "a more serious foreign company."