Armenia’s largest sports and concert arena was formally renationalized on Thursday in payment for its Russian-based owner’s debts to the Armenian government exceeding 10.4 billion drams ($25 million).
The government also announced that the sprawling property located in Yerevan will now be managed by the Armenian Defense Ministry.
The Sport and Cultural Complex, commonly known as Hamalir (Complex), was built in 1983 and became one of the modest modern Soviet facilities of its kind. It was subsequently named after Karen Demirchian, a late Soviet Armenian leader who initiated its expensive construction.
The complex comprising two large halls was sold in 2005 to the Moscow-based construction firm BAMO belonging to an Armenian-born Russian businessman, Murad Muradian. The company paid $5.5 million and pledged to spend over $40 million on its renovation.
In 2010, President Serzh Sarkisian appointed Muradian as Armenia’s ambassador to Iraq. Muradian was sacked in June amid judicial proceedings launched against Hamalir due to its failure to repay a $25 million loan extended by former Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s government.
Hamalir was seized by the state Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) in late July. The SMEJA has repeatedly tried to auction off the facility since May but failed to attract buyers despite lowering its minimum asking price from 19.3 billion drams to 10.2 billion drams.
The government cited the failure of the sell-off attempts as the reason for its renationalization. But did not explain why the arena was handed over the Defense Ministry.
Koryun Grigorian, a BAMO representative, denounced the government decision as illegal, saying that his company will challenge it in Armenian courts and, if necessary, international tribunals. “After all, our investments by far exceeded the amount of the debt,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Grigorian also argued that the dispossessed Hamalir owner never refused to repay the debt. But he did not specify how much more time it needs for doing that.