By Shakeh Avoyan
The Hellenic Telecommunications Organizations (OTE) needs the Armenian government’s consent before pressing ahead with plans to sell its ArmenTel subsidiary, Justice Minister David Harutiunian reiterated on Tuesday.
He also indicated that the next owner of the Armenian telecom operator will operate under different regulatory rules, strongly hinting that the government will seek to scrap its controversial monopoly on telecom services.
“We would, of course, like to use this situation as much as possible in order to rectify old mistakes and address issues that have arisen in the last five years in the development of our telecommunications sector,” Harutiunian told reporters.
Harutiunian’s reference to the unspecified mistakes appeared to reflect the government’s disappointment with OTE’s five-year operations in Armenia. The authorities are particularly unhappy with the quality and cost of ArmenTel’s mobile phone and Internet services. They have been exploring possibilities of rescinding the company’s exclusive rights -- a key condition of its $142.5 million takeover by OTE in 1998.
OTE’s chief executive, Lefteris Antonacopoulos, has confirmed recently that the Greek firm, which has rapidly expanded into Eastern Europe and the Middle East in the last several years, is now keen to sell some of its oversees assets, including ArmenTel. “We should not be in Armenia. We will try and sell it; there are some buyers,” he told “The Wall Street Journal” late last month.
Antonacopoulos also admitted that OTE subsidiaries were often run by “second-class staff” who failed to respect “local pride.” The remarks came shortly after the sacking of ArmenTel’s controversial chief executive, Nikos Georgoulas.
Harutiunian said the Greeks have not yet “officially” notified the Armenian government, which retains a 10 percent stake in ArmenTel, of their exit plans. Under the 1998 deal, OTE can not sell ArmenTel without the government’s approval.
According to Harutiunian, the government is now more concerned with renegotiating ArmenTel’s operating license than the choice of its next owner.