YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—In a further show of support for Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, more than three dozen Russian business-people of Armenian descent launched over the weekend a multimillion-dollar investment fund which they said will finance various business projects in Armenia.
Karapetian described the creation of the fund called the Investors Club of Armenia as an economic “breakthrough” for the country as he announced it at a special ceremony in Yerevan. He said it will not only attract “healthy and long-term investments” into the Armenian economy but also help to create a “new corporate culture.”
“I expect that it will make a qualitative change in our business environment and business atmosphere,” he said, sitting next to Samvel Karapetyan, an Armenian-born billionaire entrepreneur and the driving force behind the initiative.
The tycoon and the other founders of the fund issued a joint statement when Karapetian paid an official visit to Moscow in late January. They voiced “full support” for “profound reforms” planned by Karapetian’s cabinet and expressed readiness to “participate in business projects with the Armenian government.”
Karapetian said during that trip that Russia’s government pledged to help boost Russian investments in Armenia. This, coupled with the joint statement by the Russian-Armenian business leaders, was construed by some commentators in Armenia as an expression of Moscow’s support for the Armenian premier.
The latter lived and worked in Russia from 2011-2016, holding senior executive positions in local subsidiaries of the Gazprom gas monopoly. He was appointed as prime minister in September and has since repeatedly vowed to embark on far-reaching economic reforms.
“We said it in Moscow and we have come here to again say that we support the Armenian government and its programs that will ensure our country’s prosperity,” Karapetyan told a joint news conference with the premier.
Armenians, the tycoon went on, should expect many pleasant “surprises” from their prime minister. “It’s been just a few months since he started [working as prime minister] but even I am surprised by such a combative mood of Karen Karapetian,” he said. “We are going to defend and support him, and I am sure that very soon goals will be scored every day.”
Campaigning for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Karapetian regularly states that his government has all but secured $3.2 billion in funding for around 350 nationwide investment projects to be implemented in the coming years. At least $830 million of that money will likely be invested this year, according to him. Armenia’s entire Gross Domestic Product is equivalent to roughly $11 billion.
Karapetian implied on Saturday that he expects the newly established Investors Club of Armenia to provide a large part of that money. “We anticipate that with the entry of the club there will also be other investments apart of the $3.2 billion,” he said.
A separate statement by the Armenian government said the Russian-Armenian fund will invest in new and existing Armenian firms and also buy commercial estate. It did not specify the amount of those investments, saying only that they will be channeled into the energy, mining, manufacturing and tourism sectors. The statement also said that the fund will be managed by a Russian company, Fora-Capital.
Karapetyan said the fund has already chosen “investment projects submitted to us.” “They mainly relate to the energy sector,” he said without elaborating.
Karapetyan’s Tashir Group conglomerate already purchased Armenia’s national electric utility and largest thermal power plant from a state-run Russian energy giant in 2015. Among his other major assets in Armenia is a shopping mall in Yerevan. Tashir is expected to open another sprawling trade center in the Armenian capital later this year.
According to “Forbes” magazine estimates, Karapetyan’s personal fortune is currently worth $3.5 billion, meaning that he is most probably the richest ethnic Armenian in the world.