Former Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian insisted on Friday that he did not demand a hefty kickback from a U.S. mining company and was unjustly fined by a U.S. federal court.
In a July ruling, the Southern District Court of New York ordered Ayvazian to pay the Global Gold company $37.5 million in compensatory damages for the loss of one of its operating licenses in Armenia.
The Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection stripped the New York-based company of the license to exploit the Hankavan gold deposit in the central Kotayk province in 2006. Global Gold claims that it was penalized for refusing to pay a $3 million kickback demanded by Ayvazian.
The New York court ruled that Ayvazian must compensate Global Gold because he was the de facto owner of SHA, an obscure Armenian firm that sold the Hankavan property to the U.S. firm in 2003. In that takeover agreement, SHA guaranteed that Global Gold will have no trouble mining gold and other metals there.
Answering Facebook users’ questions at RFE/RL’s Yerevan studio, Ayvazian claimed that neither he nor any member of his family owned SHA. He said he will “soon” dispute the Global Gold claims to the contrary in the New York court. He refused to elaborate.
The U.S. court verdict took effect on August 10 and is no longer subject to appeal. Ayvazian was notified about the appeal deadline beforehand.
According to Global Gold sources, SHA was formally owned by three individual close to Ayvazian and his relatives.
Ayvazian, who now chairs a standing committee of the Armenian parliament, admitted on Thursday that his family members own several companies that were granted government licenses to carry out exploratory work in areas across the country rich in non-ferrous metals. Chinese investors paid $24 million to buy a 35 percent stake in one of those companies last year.
“Why should anyone but not Ayvazian’s family be allowed to carry out such explorations?” said the ex-minister. “By the same logic we can be denied the right to breathe.”
The mining licenses were apparently issued when Ayvazian served as minister from 2001-2007. The Ministry of Environment Protection had considerable regulatory authority over the Armenian mining industry at the time.