By Hovannes Shoghikian
Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian on Wednesday brushed aside the accusations of an American company exploiting gold reserves in Armenia that said he had demanded a bribe in exchange for certain preferences.
The accusations were made public after newspaper reports revealed that representatives of the Global Golden Corporation ostensibly provided evidence substantiating their claims to the Armenian authorities.
Meanwhile, Ayvazian denies even having met the company’s people in the period when they claim he demanded a $3-million bribe from them.
“It is a good plot for a detective story,” Ayvazian said. “But why do they remember it only a year after the incident allegedly happened? We didn’t even have meetings in the last year, we only exchanged correspondence.”
Earlier this month Ayvazian was accused of condoning illegal logging, poaching, mining and other activities after a six-month inquiry conducted by the Prosecutor-General’s Office this year found “serious violations” in the operations of the Ministry led by him. In particular, the prosecutors said the Ministry and its territorial divisions have failed to take meaningful action against the continuing destruction of forests and other green areas across the country, while the few individuals caught for illegally cutting trees usually get off with minor fines or are not punished at all.
The fresh accusations of corrupt activities only stoke renewed speculation that Ayvazian may soon be relieved of his duties.
Director of the Global Golden Corporation’s Armenia Office Ashot Poghosian said to RFE/RL: “There is corruption in the country, we all know about it, and it also exists in the Ministry of Environment. We presented everything clearly and in a simple. I don’t want to comment on it while it is still in process.”
On January 25, the American gold mining corporation stated that it had purchased 27 square kilometers of land in Armenia’s northeastern Gegharkunik province. Information on the official website of the company suggested that it was going to extract uranium in the mentioned territory. The company had purchased the exclusive right to the territory and its geological research from Armenia-registered Attila Investment. But the Armenian law does not give the company the right to extract uranium without an explicit permission from the Environment Ministry.
The Ministry demanded explanations from the company on that account. “They gave us a cynical answer saying that they could also look for radioactive substances. We warned them that they must respect the laws of this country,” Ayvazian said.
Poghosian does not deny that the company is interested in finding uranium in Armenia: “We expect the presence of uranium in the Getik territory. Researches are being carried out within the framework of the general license for researches issued to us by the Environment Ministry.”