By Shake Avoyan
The Public Services Regulatory Commission on Tuesday allowed Greece's Hellenic Telecommunications Organization SA to sell its 90 percent stake in Armenian Telephone Company (ArmenTel) to Russia’s mobile phone operator VimpelCom.
ArmenTel’s manager Vasilios Fetsis said he was happy to transfer the shares to the Russian company.
He described VimpelCom as a company that has great experience in the business and the image of a reliable operator.
VimpelCom will pay 341.9 million euros ($436.3 million) plus about 40 million euros (US$51 million) in debt.
Its representative and likely future CEO of ArmenTel Oleg Bliznyuk said they have great plans in Armenia.
VimpelCom operates phone services in Russia and Kazakhstan and recently acquired cellular operators in Ukraine, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. The VimpelCom Group's cellular license portfolio covers a territory with a population of about 237 million.
The company says it will make a $100 million investment in Armenia in 2007 and stresses that they are against any types of monopolies. The company is expected to give up all monopolies within a year. It says the quality and variety of ArmenTel services will be increased.
Government legal advisor Vahe Yaghubian announced that it was the initiative of VimpelCom to bring up the matter of monopolies and said that the Russian firm is ready to get rid of monopolies within a short period of time. Thus, VimpelCom will give up monopoly on internet data transmission immediately after closing the deal.
“Both sides are interested in completing this process as soon as possible as VimpelCom itself states that they think that an open market is better for their company’s business and profits,” Yaghubian said.
Meanwhile, the deal with the Russians has added to widespread concerns in Armenia that Russia is tightening its grip on Armenia’s vital economic spheres.
Human rights activist dealing with consumer rights Armen Poghosian claims that the government was not completely guided by commercial interests in closing the deal as besides the Russians among the candidates were also German, Norwegian and Arab companies that had quoted a higher buying price.
“If we carry all eggs in one basket they will break once we drop it,” he said, referring to the sellout of major facilities in Armenia to Russian state-owned and private companies.