Armenian PM Vows to Reopen Bjni Water Company

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan Thursday assured hundreds of employees of an Armenian mineral water company, effectively shut down by his government last fall, that they will return to work before long.

The Bjni plant located in Charentsavan, an unemployment stricken town 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, was raided by security officials and put up for sale in October after its opposition-linked owners’ refusal to pay 5.2 billion drams ($14 million) in fines controversially imposed by tax authorities. Its more than 400 employees have been out of work since then.

Many of them hoped that Bjni would be reopened soon when it was auctioned off for 4.44 billion drams last month. But last week, Armenia’s Administrative Court declared the auction null and void, saying that the authorities cannot forcibly sell the company unless it is declared bankrupt by another court.

“We know than there is concern in the region about the future of the Bjni plant,” Sargsyan said at a meeting of his cabinet held in the nearby Aghveran resort. “In particular, there have been rumors that the plant will be partitioned or split up. I want to dispel those concerns and fears. There will be no such thing.”

“The plant will operate in its integrity, and the ongoing judicial processes do not mean that it will be sold off in parts,” said the prime minister. “We will see to it that this process is over as soon as possible and that the plant works again.”

“What is more, I think there are approaches that will contribute to an increase, rather than a decrease, in jobs,” Sargsyan added without elaborating. Nor did he specify the authorities’ further steps in their tax dispute with Khachatur Sukiasian, a millionaire businessman and parliament deputy who has owned Bjni until now.

Bjni and several other companies making up Khachatur Sukiasian’s SIL Concern group were inspected by tax officials and accused of large-scale tax evasion shortly after the tycoon voiced support in September 2007 for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power. Sukiasian has dismissed the charges as baseless and politically motivated.

He was among several Ter-Petrosian associates who went into hiding to escape arrest following the February 2008 presidential election. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

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