YEREVAN — A Cyprus-registered company has pledged to donate a 20 percent stake in one of Armenia’s three mobile phone operators to the Armenian government after being allowed to buy it from Russia’s MTS telecom giant.
The sale came just over a week after Armenia’s regulatory agency blocked MTS from dissolving an intermediate entity, which would have left the company as Viva-MTS’s direct shareholder. The Public Services Regulatory Commission cited opposition to the restructuring in Armenia’s High-Tech Industry Ministry over “national security” concerns.
It marks the end to a lengthy back-and-forth between MTS and the PSRC, which stopped the telecoms provider from selling off its Armenian subsidiary last year before backtracking months later and allowing the sale to proceed.
In its initial decision last April, the PSRC said Armenia’s intelligence service had determined that selling off Viva-MTS could “threaten Armenia’s national security or state interests.” The regulatory agency gave no indication as to what had changed when it then greenlit the sale last November.
Viva-MTS made just over $9 million in net profit in 2022, according to figures reviewed last year by the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti. It is by far the largest of Armenia’s three mobile network operators.
A separate statement released by Viva-MTS said that its new parent company, which was reportedly registered in Cyprus in 2022, is controlled by “professional investors” Zhe Zhang and Konstantin Sokolov. It said they intend to cede 20 percent of shares in Viva-MTS to the Armenian government in view of the cellphone operator’s “strategic importance” to the country.