YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Authorities in Armenia have finally found a buyer for a mineral water company controversially confiscated from a wealthy opposition-linked businessman, a senior official said on Friday.
The Bjni mineral water plant was again put up for tender recently after months of bankruptcy proceedings resulting from its previous owners’ politically charged dispute with tax authorities. Bjni’s court-appointed administration failed to attract any bids from potential buyers by a December 16 deadline. It was due to hold another auction next month after lowering its minimum asking price by 20 percent to 4.15 billion drams ($11 million).
Arsen Chitchian, Bjni’s bankruptcy administrator, told RFE/RL that a private investor approached him on Wednesday offering to pay 4.3 billion drams for the plant located in Charentsavan, a small town about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan.
“In accordance with a procedure set by the law, I convened a meeting of [Bjni] creditors and the meeting approved the direct sale,” said Chitchian. He refused to name the buyer, saying that is a “commercial secret” at the moment.
The takeover bid reported by the official nearly matches the amount of fines that were imposed on Bjni for alleged tax evasion when it was owned by the SIL Concern group of Khachatur Sukiasian and his extended family. The government confiscated the plant after Sukiasian refused to pay up, rejecting the tax evasion charges as baseless and politically motivated.
Ara Zohrabian, a senior SIL Concern lawyer, denounced the impending sale, saying that Chitchian and the creditors committed serious procedural violations. Zohrabian told RFE/RL that the Sukiasian family, which considers the entire affair illegal, will challenge the deal in the court.
Sukiasian, who is a staunch supporter of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, has already tried unsuccessfully to have Armenian courts overturn Bjni’s seizure. The tycoon took his case to the European Court of Human Rights this summer, demanding as much as 214 million euros ($312 million) in “material and moral” damages from the Armenian government.