A pro-government deputy who has led an Armenian parliamentary inquiry into Armenia’s controversial energy dealings with Russia faced opposition allegations of fraud as he presented its purported findings to the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The parliament debated what the senior lawmaker, Vartan Ayvazian, called a report adopted by an ad hoc commission headed by him.
The multi-partisan commission was formed a year ago amid an opposition outcry against a gas agreement signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 2013 visit to Armenia. Under that deal, the Armenian government ceded its remaining 20 percent stake in the national gas distribution network to Russia’s Gazprom and granted the Russian gas giant 30-year exclusive rights in the Armenian energy market.
The asset handover was carried out in payment for Yerevan’s hitherto unpublicized $300 million debt to Gazprom. The government incurred the debt as a result of secretly subsidizing the increased price of Russian gas from 2011-2013.The subsidies enabled it to avoid domestic gas price hikes before Armenia’s last parliamentary and presidential elections.
The unprecedented privileges granted to Gazprom sparked an uproar from Armenia’s leading opposition groups. Even former President Robert Kocharian added his voice to the condemnations, saying that the deal could turn the Armenian energy sector into the Russian gas monopoly’s “hostage.” The government and its loyal parliamentary majority denied that before agreeing to the parliamentary inquiry.
Addressing the parliament, Ayvazian said the inquiry has concluded that the deal was legal and economically beneficial for Armenia. “We have examined between 5,000 and 6,000 documents,” he said.
However, the purported commission report was dismissed as fraudulent by the Armenian National Congress (HAK). The opposition party’s parliamentary leader, Levon Zurabian, insisted that the document is null and void because it was never formally adopted by the parliament panel. He said the HAK’s Aram Manukian and other commission members representing the opposition minority in the parliament did not attend any meetings to that effect.
“We are talking about fraud,” charged Zurabian. He challenged Ayvazian to specify when the commission met and adopted the report.
Ayvazian seemed to acknowledge that no such meeting took place. He said he e-mailed a draft report to all commission and never heard back from them. That, claimed Ayvazian, amounted to their tacit approval of the document.
Nevertheless, parliament speaker Galust Sahakian, another senior member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, rejected Zurabian’s demand to stop the debate and order the commission members to meet in person and formally agree on their findings.