By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Greek owner of Armenia’s ArmenTel telecommunications monopoly has still not formally approved a controversial compromise agreement to resolve its long-running dispute with the Armenian government, thrusting its implementation into doubt, it emerged on Monday.
The out-of-court settlement hammered out by Justice Minister David Harutiunian and representatives of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) was reluctantly endorsed by the government on November 3. Ministers gave Harutiunian ten days to formalize the deal.
According to the spokesman for the Armenian Justice Ministry, Ara Saghatelian, Harutiunian signed the document on Saturday but ArmenTel’s parent company has still not followed the suit. “I can’t speculate about why or as a result of what the Greek side has not yet signed the document,” he told RFE/RL. “You should apply to the Greek side.”
Under the terms of the would-be deal, the highly unpopular telecom operator would abandon its legal monopoly on wireless phone services in return for a number of government concessions. Those would, among other things, allow it to raise its fixed-line phone charges and retain its exclusive grip on Armenia’s Internet traffic with the outside world.
The proposed agreement drew objections from some cabinet members, notably Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian. Armenian opposition leaders denounced it as a sell-out. One of them, Arshak Sadoyan, accused Harutiunian of receiving millions of dollars worth of bribes from the Greeks.
Harutiunian strongly denied the allegations during the government’s question-and-answer session in parliament on Wednesday. He also defended the deal but would not elaborate on its perceived benefits for Armenia for the time being. “I assure that if, God willing, that settlement agreement is signed I will submit a detailed report to the people and the National Assembly,” he said.
Saghatelian did not deny that if the deal falls through the matter might again be put before the London-based International Court of Economic Arbitration. OTE and ArmenTel already filed lawsuits with the court earlier this year, but agreed to withdrew them after the start of their talks with Harutiunian in June.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s cabinet was apparently so confident about OTE’s acceptance of the negotiated settlement that it rushed on November 4to grant a mobile telephony license to a Lebanese firm that runs Nagorno-Karabakh’s phone network. Officials said the company called K-Telecom was selected in a “tender” called and administered by the government in less than two hours.
The collapse of the ArmenTel agreement would leave a big question mark over that decision which the Armenian opposition claims was the result of a large-scale bribery.