YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Swiss asset management company with apparent ties to a Russian-Armenian billionaire looks set buy, through an offshore subsidiary, Armenia’s national power utility from Inter RAO, a state-controlled Russian energy giant.
It was confirmed on Friday that the company, Marcuard Heritage, is the ultimate owner of the Cyprus-based firm Liormand Holdings which has moved to take over the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA).
The Armenian government announced on Thursday that Inter RAO has asked it to authorize the ENA’s sale to Liormand for an undisclosed sum. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian instructed several government ministries to scrutinize the deal before a government decision on the matter.
Citing an unnamed source “familiar with the situation,” the Russian business daily “Kommersant” reported on Friday that the takeover price offered by Marcuard Heritage is acceptable to Inter RAO. “The deal could be concluded by the end of October if it is approved by the Armenian government,” the paper said.
Marcuard Heritage’s chief executive and co-owner, Sinan Bodmer, is also a member of the governing board of a Russian commercial bank owned by Samvel Karapetian, an Armenian-born entrepreneur who has built a business empire in Russia. Armenian and Russian newspapers repeatedly said earlier this year that Karapetian’s Tashir Group is close to buying the debt-ridden ENA. Karapetian and his aide did not explicitly deny those reports.
Tashir Group’s press office refused on Thursday and Friday to clarify whether the Russian-Armenian tycoon is somehow connected with Liarmond. Karapetian’s Yerevan-based brother Karen, who is a member of Armenia’s parliament, also declined a comment.
“I’m not a spokesman for Tashir Group,” Karen Karapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I’m a parliament deputy and mind my business.”
A spokesman for Inter RAO, Nikolay Gorelov, also would not say whether Samvel Karapetian is involved in the ENA’s likely sale. The Cyprus-registered firm did not comment at all when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” claimed, meanwhile, that Karapetian will acquire the ENA together with three other Armenian businessmen, including Gagik Tsarukian. A spokeswoman for Tsarukian flatly denied, however, that he will be part of the deal.
Founded in 2003, Marcuard Heritage reportedly specializes in managing and investing assets of wealthy individuals from around the world and Russia in particular. The Zurich-headquartered firm has an office in Moscow.
One of its co-founders, Hans-Joerg Rudloff, is a veteran German-born investment banker who sat on the board of Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, from 2006-2013. “The Financial Times” reported last year that Rudloff is “reputed by some to be the only Western banker trusted by President Vladimir Putin.”
Should its anticipated deal with Inter RAO go through, Marcuard will face a daunting task of reversing massive losses incurred by Armenia’s national power utility. The ENA has an estimated $220 million in outstanding debts to Armenian commercial banks and power plants. Armenian officials agree that the losses are at least partly attributable to serious financial abuses by various-level ENA employees.
The massive losses have led Armenian state regulators to repeatedly raise electricity prices in the last few years. The most recent price hike announced in June triggered two-week nonstop demonstrations in Yerevan, forcing the government to subsidize power supplies to households.