YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian authorities have again failed to sell off a mineral water company that was controversially confiscated from a wealthy opposition-linked businessman, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The Bjni mineral water plant was put up for tender after months of bankruptcy proceedings resulting from its previous owners’ politically charged dispute with tax authorities. The results of the bidding were due to be announced on Thursday. Prospective buyers had to submit bids by Wednesday evening.
“The scheduled auction will not take place because of the absence of bids,” Arsen Chitchian, a court-appointed official managing Bjni, told RFE/RL. “Maybe there were no buyers because of the economic crisis or because the price was high,” he said when asked about reasons for the failure.
Under Armenian law, the authorities must now hold another tender and lower the minimum asking price of almost 5.2 billion drams ($13.6 million) by 20 percent. They will have to cut the price by another 20 percent if it fails too.
The price tag equaled 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.
The authorities did manage to auction off the plant located in Charentsavan, a small town about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, early this year. However, Armenia’s Administrative Court annulled the auction in March, saying that the authorities can not forcibly sell the company unless it is declared bankrupt by another court.
The Sukiasian family, which denies the tax fraud charges as politically motivated, has tried unsuccessfully to have Armenian courts overturn Bjni’s seizure. It took its case to the 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.
Despite the bankruptcy proceedings, the Chitchian-led temporary administration resumed production operations at Bjni around that time. Chitchian insisted on Wednesday that the plant will not be partitioned and sold off in parts.