By Anush Dashtents
The Armenian government will soon auction off $1.5 million worth of shares in the ArmenTel monopoly belonging to the Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE), officials said on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the Justice Ministry imposed an official hold on OTE's 90 percent stake in ArmenTel after the Greek firm refused to pay compensatory damages to the government. An Armenian court obliged OTE last year to reimburse the ministry's $963,000 expenses on legal counseling during an ArmenTel-related litigation at the London-based International Court of Economic Arbitration in 2000.
Officials say that under the terms of a court settlement agreed by the parties at the time, OTE was to cover those expenses. But it refused to pay up for unknown reasons, incurring additional fines.
Minister of Transport and Communications Andranik Markarian told reporters that the authorities are now making preparations to sell some ArmenTel shares to the highest bidder. He said Russia's Rostelecom giant is showing interest in buying them.
OTE had paid $142.5 million to buy 90 percent of ArmenTel's equity in 1998. The remaining 10 percent is owned by the Armenian government. Although the current market value of the Armenian company is not known, the Greeks will likely retain a majority share in ArmenTel after the expected auction.
Manukian also announced that ArmenTel's Greek-dominated board will formally sack the company's current managing director, Nikos Georgoulas, at a meeting scheduled for Thursday.
Sources told RFE/RL earlier that the OTE management suspect Georgoulas of mismanagement and financial improprieties and intends to conduct an internal audit of its Armenian subsidiary.
Georgoulas has faced strong public criticism for the recent deterioration of the quality of wireless phone communication in Armenia. He has also been accused by local Internet service providers of abusing ArmenTel's monopoly on satellite connection with the outside world.