By Tigran Avetisian
The Armenian authorities have finally succeeded in auctioning off a mineral water company owned by a fugitive opposition businessman in payment for heavy fines that were imposed on it for alleged tax evasion.
The Bjni company was raided by law-enforcement officers and put up for sale late last year after refusing to pay the fines totaling 4.2 billion drams ($13.5 million). The initial auction that began in late January ended in failure earlier this month, attracting no bids from local or foreign entrepreneurs.
Armenia’s Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) called a repeat auction several days later, reducing its asking price by 10 percent to 4.44 billion drams. A spokesman for the SMEJA, Ruben Grdzelian, said on Monday that the agency has received a bid matching the price tag.
“We can’t disclose the buyer’s identity because the law on biddings stipulates that information about participants of the auction can not be disseminated,” Grdzelian told RFE/RL. “I suppose that the buyer himself would like to go public,” he said.
Bjni’s embattled management was quick to reject the change of ownership as illegal. In a written statement, the company’s director general, Laert Harutiunian, said the auction could not have gone ahead because eight Bjni lawsuits are currently pending against the SMEJA. He also alleged other violations in the controversial sale. Harutiunian warned the buyer against formalizing Bjni’s takeover, saying that it would face legal action by the company’s current owners.
“Bjni has already decided to go to court to have that auction declared null and void,” Ara Zohrabian, a company lawyer, told RFE/RL.
Bjni is one of a dozen companies making up the SIL Concern group of parliament deputy Khachatur Sukiasian and his extended family. Most of them were inspected by tax officials and charged with evading millions of dollars in taxes shortly after Sukiasian publicly welcomed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s September 2007 return to active politics. The tycoon was among several Ter-Petrosian associates who went into hiding to escape arrest following the February 2008 presidential election.
The Sukiasians claim to have been the victim of a “political vendetta” waged against them by the Armenian authorities. But the latter deny any political motives behind the crackdown.
(Photolur photo: Khachatur Sukiasian.)