YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — An investment fund set up recently by three dozen wealthy Russian entrepreneurs of Armenian descent will start financing business projects in Armenia this autumn, a senior government official in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
The fund called the Investors Club of Armenia (ICA) was officially set up in March at a ceremony in Yerevan attended by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. The latter has warm rapports with its key founders, notably the Armenian-born billionaire Samvel Karapetian (no relation).
The Armenian government signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICA in April. Minister for Economic Development Suren Karayan said at the time that the fund’s investments in the Armenian economy should total around $300 million this year.
According to one of Karayan’s deputies, Hovannes Azizian, the ICO will likely launch its first investment projects in October or November. “The projects to be implemented by the Club will mainly target the areas of energy and renewable energy,” he told a news conference. “Now discussions are underway on the possibility of the Club’s involvement in some manufacturing sectors as well.”
Azizian said that the Russian-Armenian investors are particularly interested in hydropower and solar energy. The government, he said, expects them to finance, among other things, the construction of medium-sized hydroelectric plants.
One of those plants would be built in Samvel Karapetian’s native Lori province. The Armenian Energy Ministry estimates that work on the 76-megawatt facility would cost roughly $150 million.
Azizian would not be drawn on the amount of funding which the ICA has set aside for its first projects. “When the projects are finalized we will give information about the investment package,” he said.
Foreign direct investment in the Armenian economy has rapidly declined in recent years. Government data shows that it stood at a modest $130 million in 2016.
Prime Minister Karapetian has repeatedly promised to attract more than $3 billion in investments in the coming years since he was appointed as prime minister in September. The former business executive, who lived and worked in Russia from 2011-2016, has said that at least $830 million of the sum will be invested in 2017.
The Russian-Armenian businessmen voiced strong support for the 53-year-old premier’s ambitious reform agenda when he paid an official visit to Moscow in January. Samvel Karapetian reaffirmed that backing at the official launch of the ICA in March.
In addition to his extensive business interests in Russia, the tycoon owns Armenia’s national electric utility, largest thermal power plant, and a shopping mall in Yerevan. His Tashir Group is due to open another sprawling trade center in the Armenian capital in September.
According to “Forbes” magazine estimates, Samvel Karapetian’s personal fortune is currently worth $3.5 billion, meaning that he is most probably the richest ethnic Armenian in the world.