By Atom Markarian
The government will seek a court ruling allowing the expropriation of a dilapidated hotel in downtown Yerevan privatized by a leading Diaspora Armenian businessman in 1997, a senior official said on Friday.
David Vartanian, the head of the Department on State Property Management, accused the London-based tycoon Vache Manoukian of failing to honor his contractual obligation to rebuild the Sevan hotel within seven years. He told RFE/RL that the privatization agency will file a lawsuit to the Armenian Economic Court later this year asking it to end Manoukian’s ownership of the potentially lucrative property.
Located in the heart of Yerevan, Sevan used to be a major hotel in Soviet times but fell into disrepair in the 1990s. Manoukian bought it at a knock-down price with a pledge of substantial investments that were supposed to turn it into a Western-style facility.
But with practically no construction work carried out since then, the building has been reduced to little more than ruins, resembling earthquake-zone rubble. Its bleak façade increasingly contrasts with the city center’s rapidly changing look.
Officials say Manoukian argues that city architects have not allowed him to completely tear down the building and construct a new one in its place. The Lebanese-born businessman, who also has other business interests in Armenia, is said to have told the government that Sevan’s façade is too shaky to be preserved.
The planned court action is another indication of Manoukian’s deepening rift with the current Armenian authorities and President Robert Kocharian in particular. Once a leading Diaspora partner of Armenia’s leaders, Manoukian reportedly fell out with Kocharian shortly after the politically motivated sacking in April 2000 of Armen Sarkisian, the Armenian ambassador to Britain. Sarkisian, who is seen as a close associate of Manoukian, still lives and works in London.
Meanwhile, Yerevan’s sole remaining state-owned hotel was sold to a Russian company last week in a deal approved by the cabinet of ministers. According to Vartanian, the Caucasian Communication Group is to pay $3.8 million for the Dvin hotel, one of the biggest in the country, and invest $30 million in its reconstruction over the next five years.