By Ruzanna Stepanian
An outspoken opposition lawmaker alleged on Tuesday large-scale bribery behind an out-of-court settlement between the Armenian government and the Greek owners of the ArmenTel telecommunication operator negotiated by Justice Minister David Harutiunian.
Without mentioning Harutiunian by name, Arshak Sadoyan of the Artarutyun bloc claimed that the Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE) has promised to give “a representative of the Armenian government” $7 million worth of ArmenTel shares in return for delaying the liberalization of Armenia’s telecom market. He said OTE hopes to sell ArmenTel to another foreign company before losing its monopoly on telecom services.
The government decided earlier this year to unilaterally revoke the embattled operator’s exclusive rights to wireless phone communication and external Internet traffic. The Greeks responded by filing a lawsuit with a London-based economic court before the two sides agreed to again try to reach a mutually acceptable settlement in June. Harutiunian has since negotiated with them on behalf of the government.
Under a compromise agreement presented by Harutiunian to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s cabinet last week, ArmenTel would lose its exclusive control of mobile telephony but will retain its grip on Armenia’s Internet connection with the outside world. The telecom monopoly would also be allowed to raise its fixed-line phone charges.
The proposed deal reportedly sparked a heated debate among ministers. At least two of them, Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian and Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian, are strongly opposed to it. Manukian is also known to have a strained relationship with Harutiunian. The government is expected to make a final decision on Thursday.
Sadoyan’s allegations may have resulted from the inner-government differences on the issue. The opposition lawmaker, who himself has repeatedly clashed with Harutiunian over ArmenTel on the parliament floor, told reporters that he received the bribery information from two informed individuals that are privy to the telecom sphere. He said he will not name them because he does not want to put their life at risk.
A spokesman for Harutiunian refused to comment on the allegations.
(RFE/RL photo: Arshak Sadoyan.)