By Karine Kalantarian
Greece’s largest telecommunications company, OTE, has filed a lawsuit to the International Court of Economic Arbitration in London against the Armenian government’s intention to unilaterally scrap its legal monopoly on telecom services in Armenia, it was announced on Wednesday.
Justice Minister David Harutiunian said the government was officially notified of the move by the OTE subsidiary ArmenTel the previous night and is already bracing itself for a tough and lengthy legal battle. He said it will nonetheless press ahead with plans to revoke ArmenTel’s exclusive rights to mobile phone communication and external Internet traffic.
“There will not be any changes in our policy just because we face an international lawsuit,” Harutiunian told reporters.
The Armenian government accuses the Greek telecom giant of failing to meet its contractual obligation to develop the services in Armenia, pointing to their low quality and high cost. It moved last October to make corresponding changes in ArmenTel’s operating license.
The OTE deny the charges and insist that a unilateral scrapping of the monopoly would breach key terms of its $200 million purchase of ArmenTel in 1998. With ArmenTel officials in Yerevan refusing a comment, it is unclear whether the Greeks are seeking material compensation from the government or only a court ban on such action.
The Armenian cabinet, meanwhile, appears to have delayed making changes in the ArmenTel license that were prepared last month by Harutiunian and Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian. A government spokeswoman told RFE/RL that they are still being discussed.
The two sides are also at odds over ArmenTel directors’ recent decision to drastically raise fixed-line telephone charges from next month. The government has vowed to block the unpopular measure. Harutiunian confirmed that it will take ArmenTel to an Armenian court for defying its orders.