Iranian Official Comments on Mellat Bank Controversy

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–"A state with a budget of $60 billion does not feel the need to stand behind its employees after they are humiliated," the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Armenia–Majid Ruzavi–said at a news conference Tuesday–commenting on the situation of the Armenian branch of the Iranian Mellat bank.

According to Ruzavi–law enforcement officials arrested five employees of the bank. He said they were arrested in the presence of two deputy directors of the bank’s Yerevan branch–who are Iranian and citizens of Armenia–and they were forced to give information to the officers.

The Iranian side says that certain Armenian officials are trying to avoid paying a $3 million loan. "Those people who are trying to avoid paying the loan by arresting the employees of the Mellat bank are committing a political mistake. In our opinion–the government of Armenia is also committing a mistake by keeping silent," Ruzavi said.

Ruzavi denied the charges instituted by the Armenian Prosecutor’s Office which alleges that the bank employees accepted a $26,000 bribe and said that one comes across cases of bribery in Armenia on a daily basis.

He said that–in one case–1000 tons of sugar worth about $500,000 transported from Georgia to Armenia by Iranian businessmen was stolen by some 200 Armenian border soldiers at the northern and western border crossings. The soldiers were arrested but later released.

Ruzavi read a letter–by an Iranian truck driver–stating that Armenian soldiers extort money–steal goods and personal things from Iranian drivers at the Kajaran’sector of the highway. He also said that police and military officers beat Iranian businessmen and extort large sums of money from them. He showed photos of the beaten businessmen.

"Iran will continue developing its relations with Armenia. We think that the people should know the difficulties encountered by both states–because they are the guarantors of these relations," claimed Ruzavi. If necessary–Ruzavi continued–they can publish the names of the 63 people who took out loans from the Mellat Bank–including officials of the executive branch–directors of enterprises and others.

Ruzavi reminded the people that the Armenian branch of the Mellat Bank was open when Armenia was experiencing an economic crisis–a majority of its banks went bankrupt–and the country was solving urgent political and economic problems. He also said that the Iranian Central Bank invested $5 million into Armenia’s economy. The bank–according to Ruzavi–established interbank relations between Armenia and Iran–as well as contributed to the development of such relations of Armenia with other foreign states. In 1995-1996 the turnover between the two republics totaled $100 million thanks to the Mellat Bank.

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