Armenia’s new government has decided to scrap an agreement with Samvel Karapetian, a Russian-Armenian billionaire, allowing one of his companies to manage the national electricity transmission network, Energy Minister Artur Grigorian said on Wednesday.
The previous government announced last year that Karapetian’s Tashir Kapital will manage the state-owned High-Voltage Electric Networks (BETs) for the next 25 years. Government officials said at the time that the new operator will cut costs by “synchronizing” Armenia’s power transmission and distribution networks. They said Tashir Kapital will also obtain large-scale loans that will be used for refurbishing electricity transmission lines and substations and building new BETs facilities.
The management contract highlighted Karapetian’s growing presence in the Armenian energy sector. The Armenian-born tycoon owns the country’s sole electric utility and largest thermal power plant.
“The contract has been terminated,” Grigorian told reporters. He claimed that some of its provisions are “not beneficial for the state” but did not elaborate.
The new minister, who represents businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s party allied to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, also would not say how the government will seek to streamline BETs and attract badly needed investments in it. He dismissed speculation that Tsarukian has set his sights on the transmission network.
With total assets estimated by the “Forbes” magazine at $3.5billion, Karapetian is most probably the richest ethnic Armenian in the world. His Russian-based Tashir Group conglomerate comprises over a hundred firms engaged in construction, manufacturing, retail trade and other services.
The 52-year-old tycoon strongly supported former Prime Minister Karen Karapetian (no relation) throughout the latter’s tenure which came to an end when former President Serzh Sarkisian became prime minister on April 17 in what proved to be a failed attempt to extend his decade-long rule. Karapetian took over as acting prime minister after Sarkisian stepped down on April 23 amid mass protest led by Pashinian.
Tashir purchased the debt-ridden Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) utility and a large power plant in the Armenian town of Hrazdan from Inter RAO, a state-run Russian energy company, in 2015. The new owner appears to have significantly cut ENA’s massive losses since then.
Another company owned Samvel Karapetian as well as an investment fund which he and other wealthy Russian-Armenian businessmen set up in 2017 was due to build a 76-megawatt hydroelectric plant in Armenia’s northern Lori province. The fund, called the Investors Club of Armenia (ICA), also planned to at least partly finance the construction of a 100-megawatt hydroelectric plant on Armenia’s border with Iran.
Karapetian has yet to say whether he will go ahead with these investment projects after the recent change of Armenia’s government.