YEREVAN — Armenia’s former top utility regulator was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of giving privileged treatment to a company allegedly linked to Mikael Minasyan, former President Serzh Sarkisian’s fugitive son-in-law.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said Robert Nazaryan, who headed the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) from 2003-2018, was taken into custody as part of a criminal investigation into DzoraHEK, a major hydroelectric plant privatized in 2010.
The SIS said that in 2011 Nazaryan abused his position to have the PSRC include DzoraHEK on a list of small hydroelectric facilities allowed to sell electricity to the national power grid at a much higher price. As a result, the plant made more than 7 billion drams ($14.5 million) in extra profits over the next eight years, the law-enforcement agency added in a statement.
The statement implied that DzoraHEK received the privileged treatment because it was owned at the time by “individuals linked to former President Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law Mikael Minasyan.”
The SIS did not formally charge Nazaryan with abuse of power yet. It was not clear whether the former PSRC chief, who had also served as mayor of Yerevan from 2001-2003, admitted any wrongdoing.
There was no immediate reaction from Minasyan, who fled Armenia in late 2018 and is now facing separate corruption charges.
The DzoraHEK plant was handed over to the Armenia Defense Ministry in 2001 one year after Serzh Sarkisian was appointed as defense minister. The latter held that post until 2007 and went on to become Armenia’s president in 2008.
In 2010, Sarkisian’s government decided to sell the hydroelectric plant, located in the northern Lori province, to a private company, Dzoraget Hydro, for 3.6 billion drams ($7.5 million). Some Armenian media outlets speculated at the time that the company is controlled by Minasyan.
Prosecutors said in May 2019 DzoraHEK was in fact worth an estimated 8 billion drams ($16.8 million). Earlier this year, they indicted Seyran Ohanyan, Armenia’s defense minister from 2008 to 2016, over the 26-megawatt facility’s privatization which they said caused “substantial damage” to the state.
In 2016, DzoraHEK was sold to another private company reportedly owned by Russian-Armenian billionaire Samvel Karapetyan.