A British-American mining company has accused a Lebanese-based consultancy of misleading the Armenian government about the environmental risks of its project to develop the Amulsar gold deposit in southeastern Armenia.
In a statement released late on Friday, the company, Lydian International, also challenged the government to name rival mining firms that have allegedly helped to disrupt the multimillion-dollar project.
“The Government of Armenia has said publicly that Lydian and the Amulsar Project have been the subject of a campaign by rival mining companies providing support to opponents of the Amulsar Project … When will the Government of Armenia identify the rival mining companies conducting this campaign, how much has been paid to oppose the Amulsar Project and who has been paid?” read the statement.
It apparently referred to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s comments made during an August 19 video address to the nation.
Pashinian suggested that some of the other mining companies operating in the country have sponsored environmentalists’ campaigns against Lydian in an effort to scuttle the Amulsar project. He said they thus hope to avoid spending large sums of money on complying with “unprecedentedly high environmental standards” which the government is planning to enforce in Armenia’s entire mining industry.
Pashinian signaled his government’s plans to allow mining operations at Amulsar, citing the written findings of an environmental audit of Lydian’s project conducted by ELARD, a consulting firm contracted by the government in February.
ELARD submitted a 200-page report on the Amulsar project to Armenia’s Investigative Committee earlier in August. The committee cited the report as concluding that toxic waste from the would-be mine is extremely unlikely to contaminate mineral water sources in the nearby spa resort of Jermuk or rivers and canals flowing into Lake Sevan.
According to the law-enforcement agency, ELARD found greater environmental risks for other rivers in the area but said they can be minimized if Lydian takes 16 “mitigating measures” recommended by ELARD. Lydian expressed readiness to take virtually of all those measures.
However, ELARD experts offered a different interpretation of their report during a video conference with Armenian government officials and lawmakers moderated by Pashinian on August 29. They said that they cannot definitively evaluate the Amulsar project’s potential impact on the environment because Lydian had submitted flawed and incomplete information to the Armenian authorities.
Armenian environmental activists said the experts’ latest statements substantiate their long-standing assertions that the Amulsar project is too dangerous for the country’s ecosystem. According to one of those activists, Anna Shahnazarian, those statements mean that some Armenian officials sided with Lydian to give Pashinian inaccurate information about the issue.
“State bodies must now investigate to find out whether the Investigative Committee or others have done a bad job in this process or whether Lydian has continued to mislead [the government,]” Shahnazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Lydian charged, however, that it was the ELARD consultants who mislead Pashinian.
“While Lydian welcomed ELARD’s rightful conclusion about the lack of impact on Lake Sevan and the Jermuk water source, yesterday’s regrettable performance by ELARD reveals more about an apparent lack of capacity to review and analyze complex details of more than 20,000 pages of professional studies provided to them by leading global experts than it does about Lydian or the Amulsar Project,” said its statement.
“ELARD’S comments during yesterday’s call regarding available data appear to be about a ‘wish list’ of what they would have preferred to be able to review,” it added. “When asked, ELARD did not give any reference to any industry standards that Lydian did not comply with.”
Lydian again argued that its environmental impact assessments submitted to the authorities had been certified by more authoritative Western environmental consultancies. The company also stressed that it had been granted the mining license in line with Armenian law and has been “illegally deprived” of its ability to mine gold at Amulsar since June 2018.
In July 2018, Pashinian instructed the Investigative Committee to launch a criminal inquiry in order establish whether a government body that issued Lydian’s operating license in April 2016 broke any laws or regulations. The committee said it has no evidence of such violations when it publicized the ELARD report on August 16. The head of the law-enforcement body, Hayk Grigorian, and the man leading the inquiry, Yura Ivanian, stood by that conclusion during Thursday’s video conference.
Still, it emerged on Monday that the Investigative Committee has launched an internal inquiry into the impartiality of Ivanian’s actions. A spokeswoman for the committee pointed to a media revelation that Ivanian is related to Aramayis Grigorian, who was Armenia’s environment minister at the time when Lydian won the license. She said the committee will clarify whether this fact influenced the Amulsar probe.