By Karine Kalantarian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian brushed aside on Wednesday corruption accusations that have been leveled against his embattled Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian by a U.S. company mining gold and other metals in Armenia. He also confirmed that the U.S. government has raised the matter with the authorities in Yerevan.
The accusations are part of an intensifying dispute between the Armenian Ministry of Environment and Global Gold Corporation that operates several small gold mines across the country. The ministry controversially decided recently to revoke the Connecticut-based company’s license to carry out exploratory work at one of those mines located at Marjan, near the Iranian border, on the grounds that it failed to honor its investment commitments.
Global Gold has shrugged off the claim, saying that it has already invested $6.5 million in Marjan and plans to invest another $6 million by the end of this year. It also insists that the ministry can not unilaterally revoke the license without a court ruling.
Reports in the Armenian press have quoted unnamed Global Gold sources as alleging that Ayvazian moved against the company after it refused to pay him a $3 million bribe. Ayvazian has laughed off the allegations.
But they seem to have been taken seriously by the U.S. embassy in Yerevan. The Mediamax news agency quoted embassy officials as saying on Tuesday that they have received from Global Gold documents substantiating the corruption claims and passed them on to the Armenian government.
Markarian confirmed this and revealed that he discussed the matter with Global Gold executives in the presence of U.S. diplomats last spring. “Yes, the issue was discussed at the business council headed by the prime minister,” Markarian told reporters. “In our view the facts presented by them, do not correspond to reality.”
“We have told them, ‘If you don’t believe us, then please go to court,’” he said, referring to Global Gold.
The U.S. embassy, however, clearly has doubts about Ayvazian’s integrity. “We strongly urge Armenian officials to investigate and prosecute corruption allegations, and especially those involving government ministers or other senior officials,” it warned in an extraordinary statement on September 1. “Armenia cannot develop into a fully successful democratic and economically sound state without assurance of integrity at all levels of government.”
Ayvazian, who is affiliated with Markarian’s Republican Party, faced further embarrassment last month when Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General claimed to have found “serious violations” during a six-month special inquiry into his ministry’s operations. The prosecutors claimed that it has failed to take meaningful action against illegal logging, poaching and mining. Ayvazian has yet to publicly respond to the claims.
(Photolur photo: Vartan Ayvazian.)