Thursday, 14 November

Finnish Investments of Dvin Hotel Owner and Honorary Consul of Armenia Artak Tovmasyan Raises Eyebrows

The business activities of Artak Tovmasyan, Armenia’s Honorary Consul in Crimea, have raised suspicions in Finland.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) has started to ask questions as to why Tovmasyan and his Russian partner have invested in a factory declared bankrupt.

Hetq’s colleagues at YLE has revealed that courts in Helsinki and Amsterdam are hearing cases regarding the business transactions of the factory and disagreements among the owners. Our Finnish colleagues don’t rule out that Armenian-Russian investment in the small Finnish town of Juankoski is connected to monies appropriated from the First Republic Bank based in Moscow. (In May of 2014, Russia’s Central Bank withdrew the bank’s license.)

A criminal search is now underway in Russia for the bank’s last owner, Gagik Balayan, and its Deputy Manager Sergey Hayrapetyan. One of these indictments note that a company owned by Artak Tovmasyan was involved in the transactions.

Who is Artak Tovmasyan?

Tovmasyan was born and is still registered in Yerevan as a citizen of Armenia. He’s served as Honorary Consul of Armenia in Crimea since 2002. He serves as chairman of board of directors of "Sozvezdie" National Fund of Science, Culture and Sports Development and Support. He serves as a Director of FIM Group of Companies and has been an adviser to the Chairman of Executive Committee of CIS since 2005.  

Tovmasyan has close ties to government officials in Armenia. In April 2015, Armenia’s Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan awarded Tovmasyan a medal for financing the construction of a mini-football field at the police educational center in Yerevan. In September of this year, President Sargsyan attended celebrations marking Tovmasyan’s fiftieth birthday.

In addition to diplomacy, Tovmasyan has several business interests. His business project in Armenia is the rebuilding of Yerevan’s Dvin Hotel.

Finnish Investments: A Cloudy Future

When the Stromsdal cardboard company closed in 2008, the town of Juankoski (population 5,000) lost 227 jobs. The economic impact was great.

Finland’s Ministry of the Economy and the Juankoski Municipality hired a consultant to locate an investor for the company. The hunt lasted two years. Valeri Samoriz, a businessman with Ukrainian roots who represented the Dutch company Pehami B.V., said he wanted to get the cardboard company up and running again. But he had no experience running a company producing cardboard. The Juankoski Municipality found out that Samoriz would be investing his own money. The town’s mayor confessed as much to Hetq’s Finnish colleagues. But Samoriz and the Pehami B.V. company could only raise 6 million Euros between them. The balance was to be invested by Finnvera, a Finnish state-owned financing company providing loans, credits and guarantees. Finnvera allocated 6.250 million Euros in credit, but more was needed.

Commercial banks refused to loan any money towards the bankrupt cardboard factory. The Juankoski Municipality decided to step in and serve as a guarantor for Samoriz.

Getting the factory up and running cost 18.5 million Euros. It operated for two and a half years at a loss of 22 million Euros. In 2013, the factory petitioned for a restructuring of its debt. In 2014, the Northern Savonian Regional Court forgave more than 90% of the factory’s debt. This resulted in a 10 million loss for Juankoski taxpayers and the Finnish government.

In June of this year a new group of investors arrived in Juankoski. They announced that they had taken over Pehami B.V., as per the decision of the Amsterdam court, and had dismissed Valeri Samoriz. The newcomers said they were the owners of Milini Holdings, a company based in Cyprus. According to Alexandr Skoblia, the company’s attorney, Milini Holdings has invested 11 million Euros in Pehami B.V. to date. (Disagreements between the owners continue to be heard in Helsinki and Amsterdam courts)

An Amsterdam court has found that Milini Holdings financed the relaunch of the Juankoski factory with a convertible loan of 6 million Euro loan and that it has been converted.

Hetq, along with its colleagues at the Finnish Broadcasting Company and the OCCRP, has found out that the shareholders of the Cypriot Milini Holdings are Al. Telepnyov and Belize-registered Threepwood Investments. Attorney Alexandr Skoblia told our Finnish colleague that Threepwood belongs to Artak Tovmasyan.

In 2014, Milini Holdings received 5 million Euros from Threepwood Investments. The Cyprus Registry shows a 2.5 million Euro loan (11/6/2014), but Skoblia mentioned 5 million in one of his replies.

Gagik Balayan (behind bars):

In August 2016 by judgment of Arbitration court of Moscow District implied that deals entered between First Republic Bank, JCL and company Threepwood Investments should be considered as deals with preference, that may cause a preferred settlement comparing to other creditors of the bank. By judgments of arbitration courts the above deals were cancelled in relation to the settlement, but the same time the debts of the Bank to Threepwood Investments was restored.

The court’s decision noted that Artak Tovmasyan and Gagik Balayan are childhood friends.

Tovmasyan refutes these charges. In a statemen to Hetq and FBC, Tovmasyan claims he only knows Balayan for the past 18-19 years.

“At the time, we placed our independent resources in the bank where we had current accounts. When we saw that the bank couldn’t service our transfer requests, which took around two months, we actively began negotiations with them to pay our full amount, since we had presented a demand to transfer one portion. They continuously delayed. When we demanded explanations, it turned out that there were issues in the bank. Just like any shareholder and capital owner, we started to search for ways to get our resources out. There were discussions with Balayan regarding a return of the amounts. For the bank’s financial situation and the overall amelioration of the situation, they proposed that we take the bank’s loan portfolio,” Tovmasyan told Hetq.

Consulting with financial advisers, they decided to take a portion, with the idea of formulating the remainder at a later date. According to Tovmasyan, the bank’s license was pulled three weeks after the formulation of this portion of the loan portfolio.

“How are such cases usually handled in Russia? All signed transactions are declared void six months after the licenses are called back. This is because the Deposit Insurance Agency of Russia enters the scene afterwards and starts to manage everything. Our company found itself in this situation. We petitioned the courts and won one case. Later, the appeals court ruled to declare the transfer void. We agreed and became a creditor.

Is Iosif Kobzon giving up his share in the Dvin Hotel project?

As we see, Artak Tovmasyan has much experience working with offshore companies.

The project to relaunch Yerevan’s Dvin Hotel was proposed by the Cyprus registered CCG Caucasian Communication Group Limited. According to data Hetq has culled from the Cyprus Corporate Registry, CCG Caucasian Communication Group Limited is equally owned by two other offshore companies – Berfarq Investments Limited (Belize) and Jadis Services Inc. (British Virgin Islands).

Tovmasyan admits that Berfarq belongs to him. Iosif Kobzon, a singer in Russia, is behind Jadis Services. Tovmasyan says that due to health issues, Kobzon is pulling out of the Dvin Hotel project.

Tovmasyan also owns a 50% interest in the advertising firm Vestdia Media LLC, according to Armenia’s State Register of Legal Entities. The other 50% is owned by a company with the same name registered in Russia.

The business activities and partners of Artak Tovmasyan

The fall of Ukraine’s former government dealt a blow to Tovmasyan’s business interests

The fall of the Yanukovych government in 2014 negatively impacted Tovmasyan’s businesses in that country. Tovmasyan had close links with former Ukraine President Viktor  Yanukovych and his predecessors. Tovmasyan also served as an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of Transportation and received a medal from the Ukraine president in 2004.

Tovmasyan and Ukraine MP Oksanna Yelmanova founded the asset management firm FIM Capital. After the 2014 protests in Ukraine (Euromaidan Revolution), the company’s business declined and Yelmanova no longer serves in parliament.

Tovmasyan has no started a project to produce biofuel in Russia. Some will be piped to the cardboard factory in Finland.

The businessman/honorary counsel believes that with the right management the factory can not only be relaunched but that it will be profitable. Tovmasyan doesn’t rule out the possibility of selling his Finnish assets in 5-6 years and leaving the country.

Top photo: Aerial view of the Juankoski cardboard factory; Artak Tovmasyan

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