By Atom Markarian
A US billionaire of Armenian origin, Kirk Kerkorian, has spent nearly $60 million on various investment projects in Armenia over the last two years, officials overseeing their implementation said on Tuesday. The officials led by the chief of President Robert Kocharian's staff, Artashes Tumanian, said a three-year plan of cooperation between the Armenian government and Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation is being successfully implemented.
The Armenian-American financier has set aside a total of $165 million for providing Armenian businesses with low-interest loans, funding infrastructure projects and offering credit guarantees to foreign investors taking an interest in Armenia.
A considerable part of Lincy grants, $38 million, will go to pay for the refurbishing of highways across the country. More than five thousand people are expected to be involved in the reconstruction work which is due to be completed by November 2003.
Some $15 million has been earmarked for the rebuilding of houses in Armenia's northwestern regions devastated by the 1988 earthquake. Another $20 million will be invested in the development of the country's tourism infrastructure. The authorities hope that tourism will become a major source of hard currency in the future.
Kerkorian's credit program for the Armenian private sector is worth $45 million. But less than half of the low-interest funds, handled by Armenian commercial banks, have been borrowed to date. Analysts say this fact reflects the overall difficult economic situation, with many entrepreneurs unable to submit credible business proposals to the banks.
Another far-reaching Lincy Foundation project involving $30 million worth of credit guarantees for foreign investors has yet to get off the drawing board. Tumanian said the government and Kerkorian's charity have still to work out all details of the scheme.