By Atom Markarian
A British-based company has agreed to surrender control of Armenia’s two largest chemical plants following strong pressure from the Armenian government which blames it for their continuing troubles, officials said on Friday.
Deputy Minister of Industry Ashot Shahnazarian said Ransat Group will give up its controlling stakes in Yerevan’s Nairit company and a chemical complex in the northern city of Vanadzor. “We have already signed an appropriate memorandum of understanding,” he told reporters. “Ransat has agreed to return its shares and leave Armenia.”
The Armenian government has repeatedly accused the investor of failing to revitalize both Soviet-era which used to employ thousands of people but are now standing idle. Ransat pledged to invest $25 million in Nairit within the next five years when it took over the factory in May 2002. It purchased a 50 percent stake in the Vanadzor plant two months later.
Nairit, whose principal product is synthetic rubber, again ground to a halt last fall after being cut off from electricity supplies over its substantial debts to Armenia’s recently privatized power utility. The latter’s owner, Midland Resources Holding, is also registered in Britain.
Ransat’s chief executive in Armenia, Anil Kumar, argued that under the terms of the management contract with the government Nairit was to start repaying its debts from May 2003. Kumar claimed that some governing circles and businessmen connected with them are bent on squeezing his company out of the country.
But Shahnazarian rejected the arguments, saying that the Armenian Electricity Network is a private company which is free to collect its bills. He said Ransat has also failed to repay its debts to the Armenian bank Haykap which mortgaged the Nairit shares last year. Those shares will now be transferred to Haykap in payment for the debt.
“The whole procedure will be completed in a few days,” Shahnazarian said. “We have to quickly reactivate this plant.”
It is understood that Ransat’s settlement with the government offers no solution to a huge backlog of wage arrears at Nairit. Hundreds of its workers have not been paid for months and held street protests recently to demand their back wages.
It was reported earlier this year that Nairit could be handed over to the Grand Holding of Hrant Vartanian, an Armenian tycoon close to President Robert Kocharian. But Shahnazarian said that the government is now in talks with Russian investors that have shown interest in the former flagship of Armenia’s chemical industry. He refused to name any of them.
Other sources told RFE/RL that among possible future owners of Nairit is Ara Abrahamian, an Armenian-born Russian businessman.