The Armenian government is trying to identify and punish the owner of the country’s largest chemical plant driven into bankruptcy, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian told on Thursday hundreds of its workers demanding their back wages.
“We can’t identify the owner,” Abrahamian claimed, referring to the troubled Nairit plant that has largely stood idle for the past four years.
The Yerevan-based company specializes in the production of chloroprene rubber. It has struggled to remain afloat since the early 1990s, repeatedly changing foreign owners and operators in murky deals overseen by successive Armenian governments. Nairit’s most recent parent company, Rhinoville Property Limited, is an obscure firm registered in a British tax haven. It has never disclosed the names of its owners.
Rhinoville pledged to breathe a new life into Nairit when it bought 90 percent of the Soviet-built plant in 2006 for a reported $40 million. It failed to honor that pledge, running up new and massive debts instead.
In particular, Nairit owes $107 million to the Moscow-based Inter-State Bank of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The company also needs an additional $13 million to pay the back wages of its several hundred remaining employees. They have not been paid since January.
Many of those workers demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Office during a weekly cabinet session in Yerevan on Thursday. Abrahamian emerged from the building to talk to the angry protesters.
“We have been investigating [Nairit] for the past two months and still can’t find clues about what and how they did this [mismanagement,]” he told them. “I will see to it that the guilty are held accountable.”
Energy Minister Yervand Zakharian said a government task force set up by Abrahamian needs two more months to complete this inquiry.
“The government knows that very well who the owner is,” said one skeptical woman.
“We can’t find him,” replied the prime minister. “The state owns 10 percent of the company stock. We don’t know who owns the remaining 90 percent.”
Abrahamian and more than a dozen representatives of the Nairit workers then went into the building to discuss the matter in greater detail. Hrachya Tadevosian, the head of the company’s trade union, said afterwards that the premier promised that the workers will receive their February wages next week.
The protesting workers also demanded that the government ensure that production operations at their plant resume in full. Abrahamian gave no concrete promises on this score, saying that “huge sums” are needed for doing that.
The Armenian authorities announced last year that they are negotiating with Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, on the possibility of its acquisition of Nairit. According to Zakharian, Rosneft is currently conducting a feasibility study on such a deal and will present its findings by the end of next month.