By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government will have a case for scrapping ArmenTel’s legal monopoly if its fraud charges against the Greek-owned telecommunications operator are backed by the court, a senior official said on Wednesday.
“If we prove in court that those abuses did take place, then I think the government should raise the issue of stripping it of the monopoly,” Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian declared, responding to parliamentarians’ inquiries.
A government-sponsored inquiry concluded recently that ArmenTel’s parent company, the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, has grossly inflated its investments in the Armenian telecom sector. OTE pledged to invest $100 million by 2001 when it took over ArmenTel four years ago.
A report by an inter-ministerial commission puts the total amount of investments at only $52.5 million. It also accuses the Greeks of engaging in other forms of financial fraud.
“We are now putting together all fraud facts and are going to submit them to the court to recover the damage caused to Armenia,” Manukian said during the government’s weekly question-and-answer session in the parliament.
His comments were the first indication of possible consequences of the government’s accusations. Manukian is known for his tough stance against ArmenTel and has even accused its owner of laundering money in Armenia recently.
The government’s attempts to have OTE renounce its 15-year exclusive rights to telecom services in Armenia, a key condition of its $142.5 million purchase of ArmenTel have, so far been unsuccessful. The Greek company says it will give up the monopoly only in exchange for a hefty compensation.