By Atom Markarian
The management of a major aluminum plant in Yerevan expressed on Wednesday concern at the launch of criminal proceedings against the billionaire co-owner of its Russian parent company, Oleg Deripaska.
The executive director of the Armenal factory, Movses Dzavarian, warned that the high-profile case against Deripaska, seen by many analysts as politically motivated, could undermine the Russian aluminum giant’s multimillion-dollar investment plans in Armenia.
One of Russia’s ten richest men, Deripaska owns 50 percent of the Siberia-based RusAl
aluminum consortium, which controls nearly 80 percent of aluminum production in Russia and ranks third worldwide in the sector. Like many other Russian tycoons, he built up his huge fortune in the 1990s as a result of questionable privatization deals one of which is now investigated by Moscow prosecutors. They suspect serious irregularities in a 2001 shares transaction carried out by another company owned by the 35-year-old aluminum baron.
The inquiry came on the heels of fraud and tax evasion charges leveled against the Yukos oil group of Russia’s richest businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Russian media and commentators have linked the two cases, portraying them as part of the Kremlin’s campaign against Russia’s increasingly ambitious business elite.
In Dzavarian’s words, the crackdown may have negative implications for Armenal which has been steadily expanding in recent years after standing idle for nearly a decade. “It could affect not only our business but also the investments which they have been making in other countries,” he told RFE/RL.
Armenal was set up in 2000 after RusAl purchased a commanding 74 percent share in Yerevan’s moribund Kanaker Aluminum Plant which used to employ thousands of people in the Soviet times. The Russians completed the takeover last December by buying the remaining 24 percent from the Armenian government. They claim to have already invested $10 million in Armenal and have pledged to invest another $24 million in the next ten years.
Dzavarian said RusAl’s Armenian subsidiary currently has about 1,200 workers and exports all of its production, aluminum foil, to Europe and the United States. He said the additional investments promised by the Russians will be vital for Armenal’s plans to move into profit by 2005.
RusAl’s second co-owner is Roman Abramovich, an equally famous billionaire and the governor of the Chukotka region in northeastern Siberia. Russian media reported recently that Abramovich, who bought a famous London soccer club last month, is considering selling his aluminum assets.