By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s largest chemical company, Nairit, appears to have attracted a new foreign investor less than two weeks after being declared bankrupt under a $27 million debt burden.
Officials confirmed on Monday that a group of Russian-based investors plan to take over the huge but moribund Yerevan factory and have already installed a new management there.
An Armenian court transferred on April 25 the ownership of Nairit to the local Haykap bank, its largest creditor which is also facing bankruptcy proceedings. The move followed Nairit’s failure to repay its $14 million debt to Haykap. The private bank, which is currently administered by the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA), hopes to improve its fortunes by reviving the factory.
Government officials refuse to disclose the identity of Nairit’s new operator, saying only that it is based in Russia. The CBA chairman, Tigran Sarkisian, said late last month that the investor has already set up a corporate structure, called Nairit Trust, to run the Soviet-era giant that has stood idle for much of the past decade.
A British-based company, Ransat Group, has tried unsuccessfully to rescue Nairit and turn it into a successful business. Under a management contract signed with the Armenian government in early 2002, Ransat pledged to invest $25 million in Nairit within the next five years. However, the deal effectively collapsed several months later, with each other party accusing the other of failing to honor its contractual obligations. Ransat eventually agreed to surrender control of Nairit.
The authorities signaled in January that Nairit will be taken over by Hrant Vartanian, a millionaire businessman close to President Robert Kocharian. Vartanian personally pledged to bring the factory, which used to employ thousands of people, back to life during one of Kocharian’s campaign rallies last February. The reasons for the government’s apparent change of heart are still unknown.