By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government and ArmenTel on Friday dismissed fresh reports that the telecommunications monopoly is to be sold off by its owner, the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE).
A Greek newspaper reported this week that the chairman of the Greek telecom giant, Panagiotis Burlamis, will fly to Yerevan to discuss the deal with Armenian officials.
A spokesman for Justice Minister David Harutiunian, who has represented the government in its dealings with OTE, told RFE/RL that Burlamis was indeed in Yerevan on Wednesday but did not discuss any plans to sell ArmenTel. Ara Saghatelian said Harutiunian and the Greek executive had only a “courtesy meeting.”
“I have no information about ArmenTel’s possible sale,” Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian told RFE/RL.
The ArmenTel spokeswoman, Hasmik Chutilian, also denied the report. She insisted that the Greeks have no plans to find another foreign buyer for their unpopular Armenian subsidiary.
Top OTE executives themselves have expressed such a desire in the past, citing their difficult relations with the government in Yerevan and ArmenTel’s underperformance.
But those relations must have improved since November when the two sides sealed a compromise agreement ending their long-running disputes.
Besides, ArmenTel’s profits shot up by 70 percent to 20 million euros ($27 million) last year. The Greek firm paid $200 million it they bought the Armenian telecom operator in 1998 along with the exclusive rights to all forms of telecommunication in Armenia.
The bulk of the 2004 earnings were generated by ArmenTel’s mobile phone network. It remains to be seen how they will be affected by the impending partial liberalization of the wireless communication sector which was the main result of the November deal.
The Lebanese-owned company K-Telecom, which was selected by the government as Armenia’s second mobile phone operator, is expected to launch its network later this year. Its executive director accused ArmenTel on Tuesday of obstructing the launch which was initially scheduled for May.
But Chutilian denied the claims, saying that the two companies need more time to work out “technical and commercial issues” relating to the compatibility of their wireless networks.