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Gold Fight: International company alleges bribery in dispute with government ministry
By Arpi Harutyunyan
A dispute over mining rights has lead to charges of misconduct by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and to counter charges that Global Gold Mining (GGM) has not fulfilled the obligations of its rights to do business in Armenia. The mining company – owned by a consortium of international investors, with operations here and in Chile – charges, though implicitly, that it risks losing its license to operate because it refuses to pay a bribe. (It is believed the alleged bribe could amount to a few million dollars.) Permission for geodesic surveys is granted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
“The Ministry has flagrantly violated the laws by depriving the company of a license, without notice; and then, the decision has been absolutely groundless,” explains Ashot Poghosyan, a lawyer by background and the Director of the Armenian branch of Global Gold Mining (www.globalgoldcorp.com).
“We are an international company and operate exceptionally within the frameworks of the law. We are committed to excluding corruption from our activities. It appears this style of work is not adopted in Armenia,” he says.
Reflecting on the GGM and the Ararat gold recovery company, Minister of Environmental Protection Vardan Aivazyan, said: “What expectations are they talking about? Do you mean I have taken money and demand more now,” he said, quoted in “168 Zham” newspaper, and validated to ArmeniaNow by his press representative. “Let them bring the money and wind up the matter. The difficulty is with giving for the first time, then they will give all the time… Why don’t they bring it? I said it and repeat it: both companies have to work within the limits of the obligations they have undertaken and within the legislation of the republic”.
GGM, founded in 1996, has invested $6.5 million in its Armenia operation and says it expects to increase it to $9.6 million by the end of the year, if granted a contract. In any case there are other GGM mines working, into which the company will make its investments.
But Aivazyan says any surveying currently being conducted is done illegally.
“The Global Gold exploits the mines without being registered in the list of companies engaged in geodesic surveys at the Ministry of Environmental Protection,” he states.
A letter from the Ministry, to the company last month said its license has been discontinued because it failed to meet requirements of its previous license.
“Taking into account that the company has not fulfilled the works stipulated by the project, has not submitted information on the surveys and has not signed a license agreement by the present moment, the RA Ministry of Environmental Protection repeals the special license for survey number one given to the SHA Ltd. on 08.07.2004,” the letter says, referring to a license on mine surveillance in Marjan in Syunik marz.
In 2003, GGM bought 80 percent of SHA Ltd. shares, taking on the conditions of that company’s contract for surveys in Hankavan and Marjan mines. The Ministry says works outlined by that license were not fulfilled by GGM, leading to the rejection of further contracts.
Poghosyan, though, argues that the Ministry is in violation of law for revoking GGM’s license.
It appears the GGM director has legal grounds, as Armenia’s law on such matters states that a company should, in writing, be given 90 days to correct violations. Then, if corrections are not made, the Ministry must appeal to a court if it wants to revoke the license.
“The Ministry had no right to make a decision of the license withdrawal without passing through the court. It is a violation of law,” Gagik Adibekyan, the Head of the Department for Supervision of Contract Obligation Accomplishment at the Concession Agency of the RA Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, says.
Hrant Avetisyan, the Head of the Lithosphere Protection Agency of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, comments, without opposing to the position of the Ministry:
“The Ministry has deprived the GGM of the license for surveys in Marjan because the last surveys were done in the 1970s. This means the company has not accomplished its obligations.”
Poghosyan qualifies Avetisyan’s explanations as groundless, mentioning the license expires in 2007. “It is not the 2007 today,” Poghosyan emphasizes.
He says the mining company fulfills its obligations by the end of the real term of the license, and that GGM has already finished initial stages of its survey.
“Marjan is complicated not only because of its distance from the settlements and infrastructures, but also because of its location close to the border. It means our works can’t be realized in short terms,” mentions Poghosyan.
Marjan, some 280 kilometers south of Yerevan, borders Nakhijevan, which is under Azerbaijan authority and is subject to military skirmishes between the rival armies. GGM has offered to finance a military observation post there to make its operations more secure. Landmines are also a danger that hampers the company’s work, it says.
Yura Lalazaryan, Director of SHA Ltd., says the preliminary estimations show the Marjan gold mine promises some 12 tons of gold.
Avetisyan, of the licensing agency, says another company has also appealed for a geodesic survey of the location and he does not exclude the possibility of proceeding with the appeal by the latter.
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