Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan has dismissed criticism voiced by successful Armenian-American businessman, real estate developer and philanthropist Vahak Hovnanian about obstacles to business investments in Armenia.
Hovnanian, founder of Vahakni Residential Community, a major real estate project considered a VIP housing site in Northern Yerevan, complained at a press conference a couple of weeks ago, saying he has been prevented from making investments in certain business spheres.
“I wanted to start importing timber, but was told not to, because Russia holds the monopoly there. Tried wheat imports, they warned – wheat crop is burned before it’s ripe,” businessman told a news conference. “Our market is monopolized. This hinders economic development. One player rules the market and doesn’t let small businesses grow. Prices are set at their whim, they have everything at the palm of their hands,” Hovnanian added.
In an interview to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Armenian prime minister addressed businessman’s complaints, saying he’s well aware of problems in the economy.
“However, I have to say, that often when we research this or that complaint, we find out, that it’s not always based on reality. I can assure you, that in this concrete example, there is no problem whatsoever with importing wheat to Armenia,” Tigran Sargsyan said.
“It’s just that people often are guided by gossip, rather than fact,” he added.
Despite what the Prime Minister said, there are rumors (call it gossip, if you will), that import of key food products, including wheat, sugar, rice, are controlled by “oligarch” MP Samvel Alexanian. There are also import monopolies in the fuel market, mobile phones and electronic goods markets, etc. Some of those gossips have actually proved true as the State Commission for The Protection of Economic Competition has filed investigations against companies owned by Samvel Alexanian, Mikhail Baghdasarov and other oligarchs.
However, everything is not as simple as it would seem.
Vahakn Hovnanian has become increasingly critical of Armenian economic realities in recent years. This may be a reflection of the fact, that the rich Armenian-American businessman’s fortunes have changed, as he has ceased to enjoy the privileged treatment he was getting under former president Robert Kocharian’s rule. Some are suggesting, that Serzh Sargsian, who is rumored to have vested interests in the real estate business, is reluctant to give edge to his Diasporan competitor. Which would mean, that Mr. Hovnanian had no problem with monopolies, while he was enjoying privileges…
Thanks to Garo for the heads up!